Officials at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department continue to encourage individuals, especially those at high risk, to get a flu shot.
Denise Stinson, the public health nurse in the department’s communicable disease control program, said the predominant strain of flu virus this season is H1N1, which emerged in 2009 and resulted in a pandemic.
“Influenza usually starts in the east and then spreads west,” Stinson said. “The southeast now has the most intense impacts and the highest rate.”
Stinson said the flu hasn’t reached its peak in western Washington in terms of the number of cases. For the week of Dec. 23, the county health department reported 11 patients hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza.
Of the 29 hospitalized patients reported this season, the average age is 52. The good news is, no deaths have been reported in Pierce County, compared to the three deaths reported statewide.
Stinson said H1N1 tends to strike those younger than 65.
“Older people seem to have an immunity to it,” she said. “This year, we don’t know yet what the impacted populations will be. Most of the ones admitted this year are the ones in the younger age groups.”
Stinson said those who have risk factors, such as diabetes, asthma or morbid obesity, have a greater chance of becoming sick due to the flu.
Stinson added pregnant women are highly susceptible and should get a flu shot during any trimester.
“Pregnant women are often afraid that the shot is not safe to get during pregnancy,” Stinson said. “They need to know that the vaccine is continuously monitored for safety in both mothers and babies and has been proven to be very safe. Influenza, on the other hand, is very dangerous for pregnant women.”
Stinson said a flu shot can even give the baby some immunity.
“If the mom has the flu shot, some of the antibody from the flu shot will cross over and help the baby in those first few months of life,” Stinson said.
As for other at-risk populations, Stinson said anyone who believes they’re showing symptoms of influenza should visit their doctor and receive an anti-viral treatment. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.
Nationwide, Stinson said flue vaccination compliance is low. Only 39 percent of people ages 18-64 receive one, she said. For those 6 months to 17 years old, or for women who are pregnant, it’s 41.1 and 40.7 percent, respectively, she said.
Those who want a flu shot can get one at a drug store pharmacy. Another place to start, especially for parents of young children, is a primary physician, Stinson said.
For a list of free or low-cost flu shot providers, visit www.tpchd.org/flu.