SNOHOMISH COUNTY — The Snohomish Health District reports five Snohomish County residents have died in the last month from the severe influenza (commonly called the "flu") that is circulating throughout Western Washington. All but one death was in people over age 70, and all had underlying medical conditions in addition to confirmed flu.
The latest flu-related death was of an Everett woman in her 70s. The health district confirms and reports deaths through the previous week, Jan. 19. Previously the health district confirmed flu-related deaths in a Stanwood man in his 90s, a Bothell woman in her 40s, an Everett woman in her 80s, and an Edmonds woman in her 80s.
Nation-wide, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that more than 90 percent of flu season deaths have been in people over age 65. Older people are also more likely to be hospitalized as a result of this year's H3N2 flu strain. To date, 71 hospitalizations related to flu have been reported in Snohomish County.
The Snohomish Health District has also received reports of flu outbreaks at nine longterm care facilities through Jan. 19, compared to one facility reporting flu in the 2011-2012 flu season. Facilities must report whenever at least two residents have flu symptoms and at least one has tested positive for influenza.
"Even when vaccinated, the elderly are more at risk to flu because their immune systems are weaker than in younger people," explained Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for Snohomish Health District. "That's why flu vaccination is so important for people of all ages – so we don't spread flu to people who are most vulnerable."
State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes sent a letter to long-term care facility managers urging them to encourage employees to get vaccinated to protect patients and themselves from the flu. Visitors to these facilities should get the flu vaccine and delay visits if they're sick.
People who are at high risk of serious flu complications — seniors, pregnant women, young children, and people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease — should contact a health care provider immediately if they develop influenza-like symptoms, including cough, fever, sore throat, and body aches. Antiviral treatment works best when started as soon as possible after you get sick.
For those who are healthy, flu shots are still recommended to protect yourself and others, along with frequent hand washing. Children's flu shots are subsidized by the state. Adult flu shots are covered by most health insurance and are available in providers' offices as well as community clinics, pharmacies, and the Snohomish Health District clinics.
A free vaccination clinic for uninsured adults is scheduled for 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 at Comcast Skate Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett, Wash. The clinic is sponsored by the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club and coincides with a free skating event for the public in the main ice rink. Flu and whooping cough shots for adults will be available.
During last year's flu season in Snohomish County, 39 residents were reported hospitalized and there were two deaths related to flu. Only lab-confirmed deaths are counted, and not all hospitals report flu-related admissions. The CDC estimates that up to 49,000 people die from the flu each year.
"This flu season appears to be the worst since H1N1 in 2009, when more than 100 people were hospitalized in Snohomish County," said Goldbaum. "However, the current flu strain is most severe in seniors, while H1N1 caused deaths in younger people. We also have plenty of vaccine matched to the current strain this year."
To learn more about the flu and vaccination, visit the Snohomish Health District website at www.snohd.org.