PRESS RELEASE FROM SPOKANE REGIONAL HEALTH DISTRICT:
SPOKANE, Wash. - 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. Most concerning is the number of patients over the age of 60 who were recently hospitalized.
This flu season, 24 individuals have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed cases, compared to four admissions during the same period last year. Seven of this season's admissions occurred in the last 48 hours. The average age of the recent admissions was 79 years.
"Most people who get the flu will have mild illness and recover quickly, but adults 65 years and older are at high risk for developing flu complications that can sometimes result in hospitalization and occasionally death," said SRHD health officer Dr. Joel McCullough. "This is an important reminder not only for older residents, but all residents, to get a flu shot as it is the single best way for people to protect not only themselves against the flu, but their loved ones as well."
It is recommended that all people 6 months of age and older get immunized against flu. In addition to the regular-dose flu shot available to all residents, adults age 65 years and older can receive a high-dose vaccine that results in a stronger immune response. Flu shots are available at the SRHD Public Health Clinic, (509) 324-1600, as well as numerous other locations throughout Spokane County including health care provider offices, local pharmacies and grocery stores. There is also a flu shot locator in the right-hand column of the health district's flu web page.
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 Cough Sore throat Runny or stuffy nose Muscle or body aches Headaches Fatigue (very tired)
In addition to older people being at higher risk for serious flu complications, so are young children and people with certain health conditions.
Dr. 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 strain is H3N2, which can cause more serious illness.
While Spokane's first lab-confirmed flu occurred in October, most of the time, local flu activity peaks in February or later. Last flu season, 138 people were hospitalized due to flu in Spokane County.
The Washington State Department of Health reports six flu-related deaths this season—all on the west side of the state. In the United States over a recent 30-year period, the flu was linked to thousands of deaths each year — ranging from 3,000 to 49,000.
Flu viruses spread when people with flu generate 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 wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home if you're sick.
If you're 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 their best option. It's also important to stay away from others for at least 24 hours after you have no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine.