Flu season in full swing

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Nineteen people are reported to have died in Washington from this season’s flu, health officials said Wednesday.

Walla Walla has seen one death in a patient “with lots of underlying complications,” in an age group vulnerable to flu and other health issues, said, Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.

In addition, hospitals here have been busy with people coming in with flu-like symptoms, he noted.

Only lab-confirmed flu deaths are reportable in the state, and many cases aren’t lab tested, so the actual toll of flu is likely higher, state officials said.

The virus is widespread in Washington and at the height of the flu season. Most confirmed flu cases across the nation and here have been the H1N1 strain — sometimes called swine flu — first seen in 2009. That strain is covered by this season’s flu vaccine, health officials said.

A flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, and especially important for people at high risk for complications from flu, including young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with certain medical conditions — such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes and neurologic conditions.

Nationally, estimates from November showed that less than 40 percent of the population had been vaccinated against flu, leaving a lot of people unprotected.

To best protect people and communities from flu, 80 percent of residents or more must be vaccinated. It takes two weeks after vaccination to be protected.

The disease is expected to circulate in Washington for several more weeks. Children younger than 9 may need two doses about a month apart.

Crowder’s advice remains steadfast: “Get a flu shot, wash your hand, cover your cough and stay home if you’re sick.”

Vaccinations are still widely available at pharmacies and clinics, he added.

The state Department of Health buys flu vaccine for people through age 18. It is available in Walla Walla at the county health department, 314 W. Main St., Rose Street entrance.

Youths can also get the vaccine from their regular health care provider. Providers may charge an office visit fee and an administration fee to give the vaccine, but those who can’t afford the administration fee can ask to have it waived.

To make an appointment of for more information call 524-2650.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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