Flu shots urged as illnesses and deaths reported
As flu season progresses, health authorities are once again urging residents to get vaccinated.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Every year, health officials send out the same public-service announcement during flu season: Get vaccinated.
Although many residents ignore the advice, authorities are once again stressing its importance, especially with an increase in reported flu cases — and deaths — across the state.
As peak flu season begins, the number of cases is increasing in King County, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.
The increase is also reported nationwide, the department said. Currently, the dominant strain is influenza A H1N1, commonly known as swine flu. It affects younger and middle-age adults more often than other strands of the virus.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable disease epidemiology and immunization for the King County agency, said six influenza deaths in King County have been reported to Public Health since Dec. 17 — one confirmed to be a case of H1N1.
Official figures for flu deaths differ between state and local agencies, in part because of a lag in reporting time, but deaths have also occurred outside King County.
Tim Church, director of communications for the state Department of Health, said that as of Dec. 28, three other counties — Kittitas, Thurston and Benton — have each had one confirmed flu death.
Snohomish County officials have also reported one flu death — a Bothell woman in her 30s.
During the past flu season in 2012 and 2013, there were 54 confirmed flu deaths statewide.
According to Duchin, the available numbers do not accurately portray the flu season, with far more flu deaths occurring than are reported. “ ... But we do know that the deaths that are reported to us every season are just the tip of the iceberg,” Duchin said.
Most of the cases the state is seeing are of the H1N1 strain as well, Church said, and this season’s flu vaccine is designed to deal with it.
“So if people get vaccinated, the vaccine is a good match for the type of flu out there, and it should provide good protection for people,” he said.
King County health officials said there is an ample supply of vaccine this year.
Church also urged people to wash their hands and stay home if they are ill.
Going to work or school is “bad for them, in terms of their ability to heal, and bad for the folks around them who they can get very ill,” Church said.
The influenza vaccine is available at multiple health-care providers and pharmacies across the state. To find a more complete database of vaccine locations, visit http://flushot.healthmap.org/.
Safiya Merchant: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2299