While Eastern Washington’s overall percent of emergency room visits for influenza-like illness remains below baseline, Spokane Regional Health District is seeing a marked increase in flu hospitalizations in Spokane County.
This flu season, 45 individuals have been hospitalized in Spokane County with laboratory-confirmed cases, compared to 11 admissions during the same period last year. And unfortunately, one of those patients -- a Grant County man in his 40s -- has died.
The Washington State Department of Health reports three other flu-related deaths in the state -- none of them were Spokane County residents, say Health District officials.
“Most people who get the flu will have mild illness and recover quickly, but certain groups are at high risk for developing flu complications that can sometimes result in hospitalization and occasionally death,” said SRHD health officer Dr. Joel McCullough. “Your best chance at protecting your loved ones, and yourself, from flu is to get a flu shot.”
The flu vaccine works best among healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses might develop less immunity than healthy children and adults after vaccination.
However, even for these people, the flu vaccine still may provide some protection. McCullough noted that this year’s vaccines appear to be well-matched for the two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B that are circulating. The dominant A strain in circulation is pH1N1, which can cause more serious illness in children and working-age adults.
Flu activity in Spokane County historically peaks in February or later. Last flu season, 152 people were hospitalized due to flu in Spokane County and two residents’ deaths were attributed to flu-related illness. In the United States, over a recent 30-year period, the CDC reports that the flu was linked to thousands of deaths each year — ranging from 3,000 to 49,000.
It's recommended that all people 6 months of age and older get immunized against flu. The vaccine promotes antibody protection within two weeks. Flu vaccine choices this year include:
Quadrivalent vaccine -- For the first time, some flu vaccines will protect against four strains of influenza -- two stains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. Including a second strain of influenza B provides broader protection.
Trivalent vaccine -- The traditional vaccine designed to protect against three different flu viruses—two A viruses and one B virus.
Nasal spray vaccine -- This flu vaccine is sprayed into the nose and is approved for use in healthy, non-pregnant persons ages 2 through 49.
Egg-free vaccines -- Flu vaccines are traditionally cultured in eggs, but this year, vaccines made from viruses grown in animal cells are available. Health care providers may want to consider this vaccine for people with egg allergies.
High-dose vaccines -- As people age, their immune systems weaken, which means the elderly get less protection from a standard flu shot than do younger people. High-dose shots, approved for those ages 65 and over, include four times the usual level of immunity-producing proteins to provide more protection.
Intradermal shots -- These shots are designed for needle-phobic adults ages 18 to 64—they have shorter needles that penetrate just the skin, rather than traditional intramuscular shots.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Flu viruses spread when people with flu expel droplets from their mouths or noses while coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. People can also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
A person can spread flu before they know they’re sick and up to seven days after. Children can spread it for even longer. Again, the best way to avoid getting or spreading the flu is to get a flu shot, and also washing hands, covering coughs and staying home if sick.
If an individual is already sick with the flu, antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and help prevent serious complications. They work best when started quickly; people should ask their health care provider about available options. It’s also important to stay away from others for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
For more information about influenza and influenza vaccine, visit cdc.gov/flu or srhd.org.