Although it’s still too early to tell exactly how bad this year will be, experts claim that that this season is about five weeks ahead of the average flu season.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, six deaths related to influenza have already been reported — two adults from King County, a child from Pierce County and three adults from Snohomish County, including a Bothell woman, an Everett woman and an Edmonds woman.
Snohomish County is seeing its number of flu cases rise and thus far area hospitals have treated over 50 people for the virus. Last year at this time, the number was four.
The dominant strain this season is the H3N2 strain, which is known to cause more serious illness.
Data shows that the most frequently reported flu symptom currently is a cough, followed by sore throat, fatigue, headache, body ache and fever.
The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine, as it is the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.
It’s especially important for people who are at high risk of developing complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu (i.e. those with medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease), pregnant women and adults 65 years and older, as well as people who live with or care for others who are in the high risk category.
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations including doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, health departments, college health centers and even in some workplaces and schools.
Though the season has already begun, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, as the virus can continue to be active into late spring.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.
The CDC recommends getting a vaccine every year, as flu viruses are constantly changing, and it’s not unusual for new viruses to appear each season. The vaccine is formulated annually to keep up with the flu viruses as they change.
Also studies have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses declines over time, emphasizing the necessity of yearly vaccinations.
Despite getting immunized, it is possible to test positive for influenza. Though uncommon, this can be the result of several reasons: exposure to the virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period of antibody development; exposure to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine; or the lack of sufficient immunity development within some older people and those with certain chronic illnesses.
Protection can vary widely and is based in part on health and age factors of the individual getting vaccinated.
The consensus among health experts is that though the vaccination is not a perfect tool, it is the best one available to prevent influenza.
On a daily basis, however, everyone should take the following preventive actions: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or if a tissue is not handy, use your sleeve, not your hand; wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze; and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to keep germs from spreading.
Those who do become sick should stay home and not attempt to go to work or school, or participate in social gatherings, so as to not pass on the disease to others.