SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – Flu season typically peaks between January and March, but it is packing a serious punch in Snohomish County earlier than usual this year. Hospitalization numbers have been doubling each week since early-December, and there are now four confirmed deaths linked to the flu:
- A woman in her early-80s from Arlington
- A woman in her late-80s, residence unavailable
- A man in his early-80s from Arlington
- A woman in her early-50s from Everett
All four had underlying medical conditions, but tested positive for influenza A. The Snohomish Health District does not have access to the patients’ immunization records, so it is unclear if they received a flu shot this year.
With many people returning to work and school after the holidays, the Health District, Providence Health & Services – Northwest Washington, and The Everett Clinic encourage residents to follow four simple rules: wash hands, cover coughs, stay home if you’re sick, and get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive flu shots each year. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications, and their close contacts.
Children ages 6 months through 18 years can receive a seasonal flu vaccine at no cost through the Vaccines for Children program, although healthcare providers may charge an administration fee. Children younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. If you live with or care for an infant younger than 6 months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu. Also, studies have shown that getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy can protect the baby after birth for several months.
If you are 65 years or older, two new vaccine formulations are available that provide extra protection for those with aging immune systems. An annual flu vaccine, including the new formulations, is covered by Medicare, Part B. For more information and resources, including the Flu Vaccine Finder widget, visit www.snohd.org/Diseases-Risks/Flu.
Different viruses cause the flu and the common cold, but they can be very similar. The flu tends to be worse than the common cold, with more intense symptoms including:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting or diarrhea (more common in kids than adults)
Those with fevers and cough should stay at home until they have been fever free (a temp less than 100.4 F) at least 24 hours without taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen before returning to work, school or daycare.
The CDC recommends that people who are at high risk for serious flu complications who get flu symptoms during flu season be treated with influenza antiviral drugs as quickly as possible. People who are not at high risk for serious flu complications may also be treated with influenza antiviral drugs, especially if treatment can begin within 48 hours.
The increase in flu hospitalizations also means long waits for patients seeking care. Providence is working with The Everett Clinic and other partners in Snohomish County to balance the increased demand. However, residents are also encouraged to look to other alternatives to the emergency room when appropriate. Call your provider to see if you can make an appointment, or consider a walk-in or urgent care clinic. Many healthcare providers are beginning to offer telemedicine options, like Express Care Virtual, that provide online consultations for minor illnesses through your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Providence recently opened a series of retail clinics called Express Care. The first three Express Care retail clinics in Snohomish County opened in early-December inside existing Walgreens pharmacies in Mukilteo and Everett. To learn more, visit www.providenceexpresscare.org.
The Everett Clinic is also expanding locations throughout the area, with Walk-In Clinics open seven days a week and weekday evenings. For locations and current wait times, visit www.everettclinic.com/walk-in.
The Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier community through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. To read more about the District and for important health information, visit www.snohd.org.