Influenza is quickly spreading a deadly swatch across the nation. Already, 21 children have died from its complications.

Older victims include a healthy 17-year-old girl from Minnesota who caught the disease and died a week later, cradled in her mother’s arms. And a 14-year-old Iowa girl. The radio in her bedroom is still tuned in to the teenager’s favorite station, Life 107.1. Her parents say it’s too difficult to turn the music off.

Washington is among a majority of states where flu is now widespread. As of Dec. 31, seven state residents were reported to have died from flu complications.

This year’s dominant strain of the influenza virus is H3N2, which is associated with more severe flu seasons. This year’s H3N2 appears to be a mutation, which has heightened concerns among medical experts. That’s because the current flu vaccine is less effective against this year’s virus.

A committee of influenza experts selects which strains to include in each year’s vaccine. This is done several months before the winter flu season begins to allow time for mass production of the vaccine. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, the vaccine may turn out to be an imperfect match.

Still, health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated for the flu, even at this late date. The vaccine can reduce severity of the disease and is still 50 percent effective against the new H3N2 strain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. This is especially important to those who are most at risk: children, the elderly and people with medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma.

In getting a flu shot, you are not just protecting yourself. Your vaccine will reduce the chance of spreading this most contagious disease to your family, friends and co-workers. In addition, older residents should strongly consider getting a pneumonia immunization. Flu weakens people, opening a pathway for opportunistic infections like pneumonia that often kill.

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