In mid December two young children in King and Pierce County died from complications of the flu according to health officials.
The King County fatality involving an elementary-age child was the first reported pediatric flu death since 2009. The Pierce County fatality involved a 5-year old child with underlying health concerns that increased the child’s risk.
Both children had an influenza B-strain, which health officials say is particularly dangerous for young children and is the predominant strain currently circulating in our area.
The Washington State – and King County – flu season started usually early this this year, with widespread flu activity already reported by the CDC.
Snoqualmie Valley Hospital Interim CEO and Chief Medical Official Kim Witkop said in December they have seen a rapidly increasing number of patients with influenza-like illnesses, though, only 10% tested positive for influenza. She said of those who tested positive, the overwhelming majority are of the type-B variety, which historically has caused less mortality. She did not comment on the exact number of flu cases the hospital has seen, though.
Witkop said, “The 2019-2020 Influenza vaccine was adjusted this year in its influenza-A components only to reflect changes anticipated of that virus variety; the influenza-B components of the vaccine are the same as last year’s vaccine formulation.”
The flu virus is much more than a bad cold and can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. In some cases, the flu leads to death, even for healthy people.
According to King County Health, “People with flu can be contagious beginning one day before they develop symptoms and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick, and even longer in some cases. It’s important to stay away from others when you are sick, wash your hands often, and cover your cough to prevent spread of flu.”
Witkop said the Snoqualmie Hospital and the Snoqualmie Ridge Medical Clinic still have adequate flu vaccine supplies and they are available for anyone on a walk-in basis.
She commented, “It remains our strong encouragement for everyone to be immunized, not only for the safety of the individual being immunized, but also – and probably more importantly – to protect those who are at risk of severe illness or death as a complication of influenza (those with chronic illnesses, elderly, and children) from being exposed via an un-immunized family or community member.”
The flu vaccine may not become fully effective for two weeks. Health officials say if you get a flu shot and still get the flu, you should experience fewer and shorter symptoms and are less likely to spread the virus.