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2 flu deaths in Thurston as hospitals take extra precautions

Olympian - 1/14/2020

Jan. 14--Two people have died in Thurston County as a result of influenza this season, according to the county's Public Health & Social Services department, and local Providence hospitals have increased precautions to try to slow the spread of the illness.

Nationwide, 5.8 percent of patient visits reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the week ending Jan. 4 were due to flu-like illness, above the national baseline of 2.4 percent. That's lower than the week prior, but the CDC says the percentage may be influenced by "changes in health care seeking behavior" and virus transmission that can happen over the holidays.

"It is too early to know whether the season has peaked or if flu activity will increase into January," the CDC's website reads.

Washington's level of reported visits for flu-like illness that week was high, at 8.6 percent of visits, compared to the state's baseline of 1.5 percent. According to the CDC, Washington has had a high level of flu-like illness since the last week of November.

Danielle Koenig, health promotion supervisor for the state Department of Health, told The Olympian this year's flu activity is somewhat unusual due to the type of flu the department's seeing the most.

Typically, Koenig said, the department sees a lot of Influenza A in the fall, then Influenza B picks up in the spring. But this year, while the department is getting reports of both, there's more B than A.

"That particular strain is more serious for children and older adults," Koenig said.

The most recent update from the state, which includes data collected through Jan. 4, shows that 30 people have died from the illness so far this season: three children and 27 adults -- though officials caution that flu deaths are likely under-reported.

Both patients who died in Thurston County were over 80 years old, Thurston Public Health spokesperson Gabrielle Byrne told The Olympian. One death occurred in mid-November and another in mid-December; one was from Influenza A, the other B.

Thurston was among a dozen Washington counties that had reported deaths to the state Department of Health as of its latest update. The county with the highest number of deaths so far was Pierce, which had reported six deaths.

Last Wednesday, Providence St. Peter and Providence Centralia hospitals announced they would be taking extra precautions due to "increased incidences of flu and flu-like illnesses in southwest Washington."

The hospitals are asking people with flu-like symptoms to stay out of the hospitals unless they're critically ill, according to a press release. They're also screening people who enter the family birth center and critical care units, increasing cleaning of the facilities, and decreasing the number of magazines.

"If you need emergent care, of course come to the (emergency department), but if you're just not feeling well and think you might have the flu, first call your primary care provider," said Providence Southwest Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Caserta in a news release. "If you don't have one, seek care at an immediate care facility or other non-emergent option. With flu season upon us, our emergency departments are very full. No one wants to come in feeling badly and sit in a busy waiting room."

To prevent the spread of the flu, the state Department of Health advises to:

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Wash your hands often;

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Cover your cough;

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Stay home if you're sick; and

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Get your flu shot.

Even if you're healthy and don't count yourself among the most vulnerable populations -- adults over age 65, children, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions -- getting the shot protects the people around you, Koenig says.

"We're never able to predict how bad a flu season's going to be or who may get sick. So it's always good to get it up front," she said.

The website knockoutflu.org features a "Flu Vaccine Finder" tool to help users find flu clinics by zip code.

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