OLYMPIA — Influenza activity is high across the state and the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have increased sharply over the past several weeks, according to health officials at the Washington State Department of Health. Medical facilities, particularly in Western Washington, are seeing high numbers of patients for flu symptoms.
“Most healthy people who get the flu don’t need medical care in a facility. To make sure urgent care facilities and emergency rooms can treat other critical health conditions, we encourage people to learn which flu symptoms require emergency medical treatment,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.
“In Pacific County we are seeing an increase in Influenza A and B results in individuals reporting for assessment and treatment at our local healthcare facilities for flu-like symptoms. The reported numbers of identified infections is at pace with the state average as reported by the Washington State Department of Health,” Leife Klusman, RN, manager of Pacific County Health & Human Services, said Monday.
While many flu symptoms can be managed at home, people who are in a high-risk group, are very sick or are worried about their illness should contact their health care provider immediately.
Health care providers decide if patients need influenza testing and treatment and may prescribe antiviral drugs to shorten the length of the illness and make symptoms milder. In addition to medical treatment, it’s important to prevent the spread of flu by staying home if you’re sick.
Flu vaccine is the first line of defense for protection against this serious disease and there is still time to get vaccinated. Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and up, including pregnant women. It’s especially important for people who are at increased risk for severe complications from the flu, and for health care providers who are in close contact with patients with suspected flu.
“Last year the flu killed 296 people in Washington and thousands more were hospitalized — which is why you should get a new flu vaccine every year as soon as it’s available,” Dr. Lindquist said.
As of March 16, there had been 114 confirmed flu deaths in the state — an increase of 21 in one week — which up to that date made it the fourth most deadly in the past nine years.
This year in Southwest Washington, there have been six fatalities in Thurston County, four in Cowlitz and one in each Mason and Grays Harbor. There haven’t been any deaths reported in Pacific County, however a Warrenton teenager with strong connections to the county recently died from flu complications.
Washington state provides all recommended vaccines at no cost for kids from birth through age 18, including flu vaccine. Providers may charge an office visit fee or a vaccine administration fee, but any family that can’t afford to pay can ask to waive the administration fee.
For help finding a health care provider or an immunization clinic, or to learn the signs and symptoms of flu, visit KnockOutFlu.org.
The stance of Pacific County Health and Human Services remains in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “Everyone 6 months and older is recommended for annual influenza vaccination, with rare exceptions” (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm). These “universal” recommendations have been in place since Feb. 24, 2010.