Tri-Cities WA First flu death of the season. medicine shortage

The Tri-Cities area has had its first flu death of the season, the Benton Franklin Health District said Wednesday night.

A Franklin County man in his 90s died.

“Our hearts go out to the family,” said Heather Hill, a public health nurse with the Tri-Cities Health District. “This is a reminder that influenza is a dangerous virus, and we cannot stress enough the importance of vaccinations.”

Typically, the flu hits the Tri-Cities hardest in late January, but it’s making people sick earlier this year, he said on the Kadlec on Call podcast Wednesday.

The flu can be particularly dangerous for people who are older or have underlying health conditions, but children in Washington state have also died from flu complications this year, he said.

Statewide 40 people had died of flu this seasonincluding three children, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health through December 10.

The number of respiratory illnesses in the Tri-Cities is now “extremely high,” he said.

Hospitals have reported in recent weeks that their emergency departments and urgent care clinics are busy with people with respiratory illnesses, leading to long waits for care at times.

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Some Tri-Cities schools had up to 20% of students absent due to respiratory illnesses before school ended for winter break.

In addition to the flu, the health district is reporting ongoing cases of COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is a common virus but can be serious for very young children who have not been previously exposed and the elderly.

It’s too late to get a flu shot and protect yourself for holiday gatherings, but getting vaccinated now will help protect people as the virus continues to spread this winter, Hill said. The injection takes about two weeks to be fully effective.

This year’s flu virus appears to be a good match to protect against the flu circulating in Washington state, influenza A (H3N2), he said.

H3N2 is a strain that typically causes more serious illness, according to state health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant and lactating people, get a flu shot annually.

The vaccine is not 100% effective, but even if people still get the flu after being vaccinated, their illness should be less severe and they are less likely to be hospitalized, Hill said.

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The flu usually comes on suddenly and the symptoms may include feverchills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, tiredness, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, especially in children.

The prescription drug Tamiflu can make flu symptoms less severe if taken within 48 hours of the first symptom, but it is in short supply throughout Washington state. Doctors can only write prescriptions for people at higher risk of serious illness.

Shortages of over-the-counter medicines are also reported. Some stores are limiting the amount of cold medicine, especially for children, that they will sell to one person.

Tri-Cities parents have been sharing tips on Reddit about where to find in-stock cold medicine in the Tri-Cities area.

With three respiratory illnesses, as well as colds, now circulating in the Tri-Cities, the Benton Franklin Health District recommends wearing a mask indoors in crowded areas. Urge sick people to stay home.

Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, cover your mouth when coughing, disinfect surfaces that may be contaminated and have good ventilation it can also help slow the spread of disease, he said.

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This story was originally published December 21, 2022 20:03.

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Senior Writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a news reporter for over 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

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