Flu claimed 49 lives in Pierce County during 2016-2017 flu season

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Worst flu season in years offers reminder that flu vaccination is simple, important step

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported 49 flu-related deaths among Pierce County residents in the 2016-2017 season. It was the deadliest flu season of the last three flu seasons combined. The county had 15 flu-related deaths in the 2015-2016 season. For the 2014-2015 season, Pierce County had 25 flu deaths. Flu season typically runs from October to April.

Last year’s flu season was especially bad for the elderly and created high demands on hospital emergency rooms. The most common strain last season, H3N2, tends to affect the elderly more than younger people. Based on flu activity in the southern hemisphere, people should expect this flu season to be similar to last season.

“Everyone should get a flu shot, but it’s especially important for the elderly, pregnant women and those with other health conditions to protect themselves against the flu,” said Nigel Turner, director, Communicable Disease Control at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “It’s good community stewardship. People who get vaccinated also help to protect those around them,” he said.

The flu can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Each year thousands of people go to the hospital because of the flu. And the virus can lead to death.

Getting a flu shot is an important first step in avoiding flu altogether, or in reducing the severity of illness if you do get it.

“When more people take the simple proactive step of getting a flu shot, it can keep them out of urgent care and the emergency room—and at work or at school,” said Turner.

How does the flu spread?

Droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk carry the virus. These droplets can infect a person directly or through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Be sure to:

  • Wash your hands often with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

Why should I get a flu shot?

It’s a neighborly thing to do. You help to protect yourself and the health of those around you when you get a flu shot. The Health Department recommends the flu vaccine for people six months and older. When more people in Pierce County get vaccinated, less flu spreads in our communities. Higher rates of vaccination mean fewer visits to the doctor and days missed from work or school. Although the flu is circulating now, it’s not too late to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from the flu.

Can I still get sick?

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but when more people are vaccinated, less illness circulates in the community.

Those who are immune compromised or cannot get vaccines because of medical reasons have better protection when people around them are vaccinated. Even if a person who has received the shot becomes ill, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications.

Where can I get a flu shot?

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, but do it now to protect yourself and those around you. Flu vaccines can take up to two weeks to take effect. You can get a flu shot at many local pharmacies. Also, check with your healthcare provider about the vaccine. Learn more about where to get the flu vaccine and other flu facts at tpchd.org/flu.

What are the side effects of a flu shot?

Every year millions of people get flu vaccines, which public health experts carefully monitor. Most people get a flu shot with no problem. Side effects include soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the spot of injection. These side effects are mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of the flu. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

What should I do if I have flu symptoms?

Some people are more at risk for flu complications, especially:

  • Seniors.
  • Children under age five.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with diabetes, asthma, or other chronic conditions.

If you are at higher risk for flu complications and you develop flu complications, see your healthcare provider right away. Antiviral medications taken within a day or two after the flu symptoms start might help people at higher risk avoid complications, including pneumonia, hospitalization, and death.

If you have no underlying chronic health conditions and are not among the high-risk groups, you can usually treat yourself or your child at home by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids.

When should I see a doctor? 

See a healthcare provider for an evaluation if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Fever greater than 100.4 degrees that’s lasted more than four days (fevers may be intermittent).
  • Fever that went away but has returned two or more days later.
  • Coughing up mucus tinged with blood.
  • Rattling chest sounds when taking a deep breath.
  • Fainting spells, dizziness and/or severe dry mouth.
  • Urinating less (or babies have less than three wet diapers per 24 hours).
  • You are pregnant (pregnant women should seek immediate care if flu symptoms are present rather than making an appointment at an OB office).
  • People younger than age five or older than age 65. People with chronic medical illness such as diabetes, heart failure, cancer, etc. or other high-risk groups for complications from the flu.

When should I call 911 or be seen at an emergency room?

Seek emergency medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Bluish or gray skin color.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Not waking up or not interacting.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Unable to talk in full sentences.
  • Confusion.
  • Children who are so irritable that they do not want to be held.

Get more information about the flu, including how to avoid it, vaccinations and where they are available at tpchd.org/flu.

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