Man’s death confirms worst fears of flu season

Pierce County recorded its first flu-related death one month into the new flu season, confirming warnings by health officials of the seriousness of the illness.

A man in his 70s who lived in the western portion of the county died Oct. 31 after suffering from the flu. He had chronic health problems that increased his risk of flu-related complications, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Health authorities in Pierce and King counties cautioned early in October that the current flu season could be similar to last year’s, which was the worst in several years.

While no deaths were reported as of mid-November in King County, this season’s first flu-related death in Pierce County occurred nearly two months sooner than the first flu-related fatality in the previous flu season. That death came on Dec. 19, 2016.

Flu seasons typically are from October to April.

During the 2016-17 flu period, 49 Pierce County residents and 83 people in King County died from the flu. The number in Pierce equaled the deaths recorded in that county in the previous three seasons combined — 15 in 2015-2016, 25 in 2014-2015, and 10 in 2013-2014.

Elderly adults can suffer some of the worst consequences of influenza. Ninety-three percent of King County’s death toll from flu in 2016-17 was among people over the age of 65.

Health officials continue to advise everyone to get a flu shot as a way of avoiding the illness and reducing the chances of passing its fever, coughs, sore throats and body aches along to others.

The most common strain of flu last season, known as H3N2, tends to affect the elderly more than younger people. Based on flu activity in the southern hemisphere, people should expect this flu season to be similar to last season, according to Nigel Turner, director of the communicable disease prevention for Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.