Unexpectedly, number of flu cases continues to rise

The arrival of spring usually marks the ending of influenza season. Not this year.

“The numbers are still increasing,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “We clearly haven’t peaked.”

Flu cases seemed as if they might be peaking during the third week in February. Typically, such peaks signal the beginning of a decline. Instead, the number of cases seems to be continuing on at high seasonal levels.

“What I’m really expecting is that we’re likely to see some continued increases over the next few weeks,” Goldbaum said.

So far, there have been four deaths — three men and one woman — in Snohomish County from complications of influenza. The youngest was in his mid-40s, the oldest in his late 60s. That compares with 16 deaths during last year’s flu season.

Statewide, 37 people have died from influenza, according to the state Department of Health. This includes one death of a child, a 12-year-old from Kitsap County.

This year’s flu vaccine has proven to be more effective than the one for the 2014-15 flu season. The number of hospitalizations for influenza in Snohomish County — 95 — is about in the midrange for what’s seen locally, Goldbaum said.

There have been no major influenza outbreaks in local long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Fourteen schools have reported absenteeism of greater than 10 percent because of influenza-like illness, according to the Snohomish Health District.

Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues for The Everett Clinic, said that the spread of influenza seemed like it might peak around Feb. 20. Typically, the number of people testing positive for flu significantly drops about four weeks later.

Instead, “it went right back up,” he said. It might indicate a second rise in flu cases, a pattern that would be “very, very unusual,” Tu said.

It’s likely a sign that it will be a much longer influenza season than usual, he said.

Four strains of flu are circulating. So it’s possible a patient could contract one type and then a few weeks later get sick again from another. Tu said he had one such patient Tuesday. “Just because you’ve had influenza this year doesn’t mean you’re protected,” he said.

The Everett Clinic has been conducting rapid testing for influenza for 20 years. It’s part of a statewide network of flu tests by hospitals and clinics sending samples to the state Department of Health to identify specific strains of flu that are making people sick.

Children and adults can be protected from influenza by getting vaccinated. There are still supplies of the vaccine for those who wish to do so.

Flu symptoms include fever and or chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue. Anyone with a fever of 100.5 for more than four days or shortness of breath is advised to seek medical help, Tu said.

Washing your hands and covering your cough are two simple steps to help avoid spreading the flu, Goldbaum said. He urged anyone who’s been diagnosed with flu to stay home from school and work to prevent the spread of influenza.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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