By Polly Keary, Editor
A nationwide flu outbreak that has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the country has resulted in an unusually high number of hospitalizations in Snohomish County.
In the entire flu season of 2010-2011, there were 16 people hospitalized in the two hospitals that report to the Snohomish County Health District.
Last season, there were 39 hospitalizations and two deaths.
This season so far, there have been 51 hospitalizations and three deaths.
Among those who died were a Bothell woman, 40; an Everett woman in her 80s and an Edmonds woman in her 80s. All had underlying health issues.
“We may be facing the most severe flu season since 2009,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum of the Snohomish County Health District.
The culprit is a strain of flu called H3N2, one of several strains going around this year.
“That’s been proven to be a virulent strain of flu,” said Suzanne Pate of the Health District. “It’s more severe than some other types.”
Anecdotally, it’s a very unpleasant flu to get, beginning with a sore throat and including severe body aches.
The good news is that the Center for Disease Control accurately predicted the emergence of the strain and included the inoculation in this year’s flu vaccine.
Unlike some counties around the country, Snohomish County has a good supply of the vaccine. It currently has about 1,000 doses for adults and 300 for kids, and can get more as needed.
Shots and/or nasal spray are available at most Monroe pharmacies and clinics, including PharmaSave and Sea Mar Community Health, for about $24, with children about $16.
The next two weekends there will be some free vaccines for low-income adults, too. The first clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, Jan. 18 during the WorkSource Community Resource Fair at Everett Station, 3201 Smith Ave. in Everett.
The second clinic will run from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 at Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave. in Everett. The clinic is sponsored by the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club and coincides with a free skating event for the public in the main ice rink.
The county will provide 500 doses of adult flu vaccine, as well as 500 doses of adult whooping cough vaccine over the two events.
Vaccination remains the best defense against flu, but good flu season hygiene is another important precaution.
“Wash your hands often, stay home if you are sick and cover your cough,” said Goldbaum.
Other important measures include avoiding people who are sick, avoiding touching your face, and making sure to exercise and get sufficient rest.
There are still several weeks left in the flu season, which begins for data purposes Nov. 1 and ends near the end of February.
This year’s season got off to an early start, and there may be some good news in that, said Pate.
“We have a hope it will end early,” she said.