EVERETT — Flu season has arrived.
Public health officials say they’ve seen the warning signs: A spike in the number of people going to local clinics with the telltale symptoms of body aches, fever and chills and increasing numbers of patients being hospitalized from complications of influenza.
It’s part of the annual spread of influenza in Washington, which has killed 10 people, including a 12-year-old girl from Kitsap County, this season.
No flu-related deaths have been reported in Snohomish County, but 17 adults have been hospitalized, according to the Snohomish Health District.
Even though flu is spreading, it’s not too late for children and adults to be immunized, Goldbaum said. Flu immunizations generally are recommended for everyone 6 months old and older.
Those most at-risk for complications from the flu are: children younger than 5 and especially children younger than 2; adults 65 years of age and older; pregnant women and women up to two weeks after delivering a baby; those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, American Indians; and anyone with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or obesity, according to the health district.
It is too early know whether this year’s flu season will be a repeat of last year, when 16 people from Snohomish County died — one of the most deadly in the past decade — and 182 people were hospitalized.
“It’s possible this flu season could be delayed,” Goldbaum said. “What I hope is it will not be as severe a season.”
This year’s vaccine is thought to provide better protection than last year’s, when the immunizations only reduced a person’s chance of getting the flu by about 19 percent. So some people got the flu despite being immunized.
At Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, the county’s largest hospital, the number of people being hospitalized for influenza began to increase Jan. 11. A total of 13 people have been hospitalized for influenza this flu season, according to hospital spokeswoman Lisa Daly.
Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues at The Everett Clinic, said flu cases began spreading locally between Christmas and New Years.
The number of patients testing positive in an initial test for influenza has doubled each week since then, he said. “We’ll continue to see rising numbers of cases for at least three to five weeks,” Tu said.
However, flu isn’t the only virus that’s causing winter illnesses. Patients are seeking medical attention for a virus that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes called cruise ship disease and a bug that causes upper respiratory problems, Tu said.
“It’s time for all of us to pay special attention to washing hands, covering coughs and staying home if we’re ill,” Goldbaum said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to do
Immunizations are the best way to avoid the flu. Clinics and pharmacies still have vaccine available.
If you do get the flu, antiviral medications can shorten the time people have fever and other flu symptoms, especially if the medications are taken within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms. Antiviral medications also reduce the chances of flu-related complications, such as pneumonia.
Drink liquids. Symptoms can be eased with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Seek medical help if you have a fever for more than four days, have shortness of breath, cough up blood or experiences dizziness or chest pain.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Everett Clinic, WebMD