The Washington State Health Department and local physicians reported seeing a dramatic influenza increase in the past two weeks.
“We have seen multiple hospitalizations and even deaths,” said Dr. Francis Riedo, Medical Director of Infection Control at Evergreen Health. “Most of the people we have treated are between the ages of 20 and 50 years old, which is unusual. It is usually the elderly we see getting ill.”
Riedo confirmed three patients have died from the H1N1 virus during the past two weeks. All were between 30-50 years of age and not vaccinated.
“We cannot say where these patients are from or give out any names because that information is confidential,” Riedo said.
King County Public Health also reports infections are on the rise locally, as seasonal influenza has gone from barely detectable levels in early December to widespread in King County.
“We urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible as this is the best way to avoid getting sick,” Riedo said. “And if you do get sick, stay home from work or school to avoid spreading influenza.”
The flu vaccine is in plentiful supply and it’s not too late to get vaccinated to reduce your chances of getting the flu. Influenza activity generally peaks in January or later in our region and continues circulating until spring.
Another important line of protection is antiviral drugs, especially for people with severe influenza or at high risk of complications. Antiviral treatment should be started promptly if you are pregnant or in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.
The predominant strain circulating currently is influenza A H1N1, which happens to be the same one that led to the 2009 flu pandemic. This virus causes infections and severe illness in all ages, but compared to other influenza strains, it causes higher rates of illness and death among young and middle-age adults, including those with no underlying health conditions.
Pregnant women should get vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy. The flu vaccine is both safe and effective for pregnant women, including during the first trimester. Vaccinating during pregnancy protects not only the mother but the fetus and child as well. Newborn infants can’t be vaccinated until they’re six months old, according to the health department.
Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant younger than six months should also get vaccinated to protect the infant from getting flu.
Other members of the community at increased risk for severe influenza include the elderly and people who have long-term health problems, like diabetes, asthma, and heart or lung problems.
Where to get flu vaccine
Flu vaccine (shots and nasal spray) is available at many healthcare provider offices and pharmacies for those who have insurance or are able to pay for vaccination. Visit http://flushot.healthmap.org to help find locations.
If you don’t have insurance, you can find free or low-cost insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder. Other immunization assistance is available through the Family Health Line at 800-322-2588.
For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/health/flu