Flu deaths reported in Pierce and King counties

A Pierce County woman in her 50s who died last month joined at least six people in King County who also have lost their lives from influenza complications during the 2013-14 flu season.

The Pierce County death in a local hospital was reported Jan. 13. The woman had underlying health conditions, according to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials who said they couldn’t provide any more details about her because of medical confidentiality rules.

Nigel Turner, the department’s communicable disease control director, said the death “underscores just how severe the flu can be, for people of any age and especially for people who have underlying health conditions.”

As of mid-January, six flu-related deaths had been reported in King County since Dec. 17. One was confirmed by health authorities to be from H1N1, also known as swine flu.

For the week of Jan. 6, the Pierce County health department received reports of 29 people hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza. So far this season, 93 people have been hospitalized with lab-confirmed flu. For all of Washington, the state Department of Health reported 11 deaths as of Jan. 10.

For the 2012-13 flu season, 54 deaths were reported statewide.

Health officials say that the flu strain that is circulating is Influenza A 2009-H1N1, the virus that caused the influenza pandemic of 2009. The virus tends to strike younger age groups and can be severe, especially for pregnant women, infants and young children, and people with health conditions such as asthma and diabetes. But healthy people can also get the flu.

“This season’s flu vaccine offers protection against this H1N1 flu strain,” said Turner. “Getting a flu shot annually is the single most important means of protection against the flu.”

When more people are immunized against the flu, it also helps to protect vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals, according to Turner.

Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, sick days – and it can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone six months and older. Some children under nine may need two doses about a month apart. Getting a flu shot is especially important for people at high-risk, including children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurologic conditions. Babies under six months are too young to get vaccinated, but people in close contact with babies should get vaccinated to protect the infants.