Flu stomps Western Washington, overwhelming local emergency rooms

The 2017-18 flu season is shaping up to be a rough one for the entire country -- it's now considered an epidemic.

In Washington, 46 people have died from the flu since October, and many emergency rooms are crowded.

"Flu is everywhere in the US right now," said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza branch. "This is the first year we've had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time." It has been an early flu season that seems to be peaking now, he said, with a 5.8% increase in laboratory-confirmed cases this week over last.

Overlake Medical Center confirmed 143 flu cases at their hospital and clinics in a six day period earlier this month.

Virginia Mason Medical Center says in the first 13 days of January, 130 patients were confirmed to have the flu virus at their clinics.

Harborview Medical Center is admitting about six flu patients a day, and another ten coming into the ER to be treated and released.

Swedish Medical Center is seeing so many patients come in for the flu that it now has a shortage of beds. Twenty-five patients have come into Swedish in the past week, including several children. Some of them ended up in the Intensive Care Unit.

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"We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season, with much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity," CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald said. "The flu season may be peaking now. We know from past experience it will take many more weeks for flu activity to slow down."

H3N2, this year's predominant strain, "tends to produce more severe disease, particularly among older persons," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. "Doctors' offices, clinics and emergency rooms all over the country are feeling the H3N2 impact right now."

Generally, people most at risk for complications are older people, children and people with weak immune systems.

"Influenza and its complications disproportionately affect people who are 65 and older," Schaffner said. "They account for 80% of the deaths, and then there are also deaths in younger people, often who have underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and also in some young children."

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