Five percent of recent emergency-room visits in King County are flu-related. “It’s a pretty vigorous flu season happening here,” says the health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County, who emphasized that it’s not too late to get flu shots.
King County has seen eight flu-related deaths in what is now a moderate-to-severe flu season, according to public-health officials.
Local hospitals are being hit hard as flu-related visits to hospital emergency rooms have jumped in recent weeks, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, at a Wednesday news conference.
Duchin said 5 percent of recent emergency-room visits across the county are related to the flu. The preseason baseline, he said, is 2 percent. “It’s a pretty vigorous flu season happening here.”
The eight people who died were between 63 and 94 years old, Duchin said. Most flu-related deaths occur in people 65 and older, according to state data.
Statewide, 2014-15 was the worst flu season in the last five years, with 157 laboratory-confirmed deaths associated with the flu.
This season’s flu, the H3N2 strain, is known for more severe illness and deaths and is the one that struck in 2014-15, said Paul Throne, a state Department of Health spokesman.
“I think we could easily see many more deaths. It’s early still,” Throne said of the flu season. “It’s coming on quickly, earlier and stronger that it has for the last couple years.”
Snohomish County has reported four flu-related deaths. Three of those were people at least 80 years old. The other was in her 50s, according to Snohomish Health District.
In the last week of December, Snohomish County had its highest number of hospitalizations for flu in the last three years, said health-district spokeswoman Heather Thomas.
Because flu is often underreported, Duchin said the likely number of deaths attributed to complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, is probably considerably higher.
He said the current flu vaccine is “very well matched to the virus circulating” and is effective. While some may think it’s too late to get vaccinated, he urged otherwise.
Duchin said the flu season typically peaks four to six weeks after the percentage of flu-caused emergency-room visits doubles the baseline figure. The season could last another two months or more, he said. And while the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective, Duchin said there’s still time and reason to get vaccinated.
He advised people who have flu symptoms, such as fever, not to go to work and to practice good hygiene. Respiratory droplets that carry the virus can travel up to 6 feet, he said. And people can remain infectious for up to a week after they’ve apparently recovered.