Flu season in Washington considered a ‘double whammy’

SEATTLE - Even though we are well into spring, flu season is sticking around in a big way in our region. According to health officials, the flu is hitting us later, and in some cases, harder.

With the weather as it’s been, the last thing you want to do, is remain at home sick from the flu.

But throughout  the state, the flu is doing a number on our immune systems this year.

“We’ve had a double whammy this season. If you think of it as two influenza seasons packed into one with two different Influenza A strains circulating,” said Jeff Duchin M.D., King County Health Officer

According to Duchin, the flu season was a “double whammy,” that first hit the region during the fall of last year.  The first flu virus to hit was Influenza-A H1N1, he said.

“Then late winter, we had a second wave with an Influenza-A H3N2. And this one was associated with higher hospital rates and death rates, particularly for older adults,” said Duchin.

The number of flu-related deaths have not grown as much as the number of illnesses however, Duchin said.

Still though, 139 deaths have been linked to influenza so far in Washington this flu season, which dates back to late last year. It’s prompted the state to say flu activity is elevated right now.

“Having two Influenza-A viruses circulating at high levels in one season is very unusual. It’s the first time that I recall seeing that,” said Duchin.

Health officials say kids are seeing the latest uptick in flu cases.

In Snohomish County, they’re seeing more schools report more than 10 percent absenteeism because of the flu.

“The week ending March 23rd, there were over 31 total schools that have reported that. That’s more than double than what we’ve had in previous years,” said Heather Thomas,  Snohomish Health District spokesperson.

Not only that, but hospitals are being inundated with patients.

It’s not just at the doctor’s office, pharmacies are impacted too. According to Bartell’s, they are still immunizing people for the flu, which by now, in years past, would be down to zero, a company spokesperson said. They’ve also seen an increase in Tamiflu medications being prescribed.

Medical officials say the best defense is the flu shot.

King County Health says this year’s flu vaccine is 47 percent effective, meaning the chances of you getting the flu decreases by almost half. And while the flu is a bit later than usual, it’s not uncommon for the flu season to last through May.

There is a bit of hope, however.

“The flu will be declining and with us for another 4-6 weeks on the downturn,” said Duchin.

According to King County Health, you should see a healthcare provider for an evaluation for any of the following:

  • Fever greater than 100.4 degrees that’s lasted more than four days (fevers may be intermittent)
  • Flu symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Coughing up mucus tinged with blood
  • Rattling chest sounds when taking a deep breath
  • Fainting spells, dizziness and/or severe dry mouth
  • Urinating less (or babies have less than three wet diapers per 24 hours)
  • Pregnant women should seek immediate care if they have flu symptoms rather than making an appointment at an OB office
  • People younger than age five or older than age 65 who have flu symptoms
  • People with flu symptoms who have chronic medical illness such as diabetes, heart failure, cancer, etc. or are in other high-risk groups for complications from the flu

Another step Snohomish County health officials recommend is if you have flu symptoms, to not cook for others, said Thomas. It spreads germs to others and is often an overlooked step in preventing the flu.

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