Influenza is hitting hard in King County. We caught up with Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, to get his take on the flu season so far.
What kind of levels of flu are you seeing in King County right now?
Over the past two weeks we’ve seen flu activity take off with marked increases in positive laboratory tests for flu and people seeking medical care. The number of people seen at hospital emergency departments with flu-like illnesses to-date is more than we’ve seen at this time of year for the previous five years, but we haven’t peaked yet and I can’t predict when that will happen or how high it will be compared to other years. We’re also tracking an increasing number of flu outbreaks in long term care facilities.
Are there any groups of people who you’re particularly concerned about getting the flu?
Certain people are at higher risk for serious illness, complications and hospitalization from the flu. These include:
- People with asthma
- People with diabetes, and those with liver disorders or kidney disorders
- People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People who have a weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or those on chronic steroids)
- People who have cancer
- People with extreme obesity
- People with neurodevelopmental/neurocognitive conditions
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Native Americans/Alaskan Natives
Anyone in one of these groups or who has regular contact with members of these groups should get the flu shot, wash hands frequently, and stay away from others if you have flu
Increasing outbreaks in long term care facilities are a significant concern because the elderly residents are among those most vulnerable to serious complications like pneumonia, and influenza can be life-threatening. We’re working with these facilities to make sure infection control measures are in place.
It’s critical for anyone who works in a healthcare facility or a place that serves elderly people to get the flu shot to prevent the spread of illness. And if you’re visiting anyone in an adult living home or nursing care facility, please make sure that you don’t have any symptoms of the flu. If you have a loved one living in a long term care facility, ask if their staff have received flu shots this year.
So it’s not too late to get the flu shot?
If you haven’t yet gotten a flu shot, it’s definitely not too late – there’s a lot more flu still to come and a flu shot provides the best protection against the flu. The peak of flu season could still be weeks away and flu typically continues to circulate through the spring. A flu vaccine starts to build protection right away, reaching its full protection after two weeks.
How good of match is the flu vaccine this year, so far?
To-date, the main circulating flu virus is influenza A H3N2, the type that is associated with higher levels of hospitalization and deaths. It’s good news that the vaccine is matched very well to circulating flu viruses to-date this season.
Besides getting a flu shot, what else can people do to protect themselves?
Stay away from anyone who is sick, and if you’re sick, stay at home to protect others, especially people at higher risk for serious illness. As always, frequent hand washing helps reduce the spread of illness.
Eating nutritious foods, staying active, getting enough sleep and avoiding excessive stress are also good ways to keep your immunity up.
If you do get sick, antiviral medication can be prescribed to treat influenza. This is especially important for people at high risk for complications and should be started as soon as possible after symptoms develop. People at high risk for influenza should contact a healthcare provider promptly after illness onset to determine if antiviral medication is needed.
There’s also a mumps outbreak in King County, mainly in the Auburn area. How can people tell flu from the mumps?
Mumps and the flu share some symptoms, like fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue, but these symptoms are usually worse with the flu. The flu also causes prominent cough and can cause a sore throat. Mumps causes swelling in the glands around the cheeks or jaw, and this is uncommon with the flu.