Flu-related deaths, hospitalizations rise in Pierce County

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, declaring flu cases at an epidemic level, said that 12 people in the county have died from the flu and flu-related hospitalizations are at a much higher level than this time last year. Most of the deaths were people between 60 and 90 years old with underlying health conditions. The youngest victim was in her forties.

During the 2015-2016 flu season, 15 Pierce County residents died of flu, and in the 2014-2015 flu season, 25 flu deaths occurred. Flu season generally extends from October to April.

“This flu season is shaping up to be especially bad for elderly people,” said Matthew Rollosson, nurse epidemiologist at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Getting an annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu. Frequent hand washing and avoiding others who are sick also helps,” Rollosson said.

On Dec. 19, 2016, the first flu death occurred in Pierce County. The Health Department reported another four flu deaths in the week ending Dec. 31. As of Jan. 7, the Department gathered reports of seven more mostly older adults who have died of flu. In addition, 20 long-term care facilities have reported flu outbreaks. Hospital admissions for flu-related illness continue to increase to three reported in mid-October to 265 as of Jan. 7.

The flu is worse than a bad cold. It can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Each year thousands of people go to the hospital because of the flu. And the virus can lead to death.

The flu is spread when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk carry the virus. The emitted droplets can infect a person directly or through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. The health department recommends that everyone wash their hands often with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or hand and stay at home when sick.

The health department recommends the flu vaccine for people six months and older. The more people in Pierce County who get vaccinated, the less flu can spread in our communities. Higher rates of vaccination mean fewer visits to the doctor and days missed from work or school. Although the flu is circulating now, it’s not too late to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from the flu.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but when more people are vaccinated, less illness circulates in the community.

Those who are immune compromised or cannot get vaccines because of medical reasons have better protection when people around them are vaccinated. Even if a person who has received the shot becomes ill, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications.

Flu vaccines can take up to two weeks to take effect. You can get a flu shot at many local pharmacies. Also, check with your health care provider about the vaccine. Learn more about where to get the flu vaccine and other flu facts online: www.tpchd.org/flu

Every year millions of people get flu vaccines, which public health experts carefully monitor. Most people get a flu shot with no problem. Side effects include soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the spot of injection. These side effects are mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of the flu.

– Tacoma-Pierce County Health Dept.