Flu packing big punch


Staff writer

After the flu season hit Washington and the nation early this year, more people obtained flu immunizations this fall than in previous years, according to health authorities.

“The good news is more people than usual are getting vaccinated against the flu in our state,” state health officer Dr. Maxine Hayes said. “There is no more vaccine in production nationally, so people who want the vaccine should contact their healthcare provider soon.”

“More people are aware of it because it came earlier,” said state Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer. “Never before (was there) such a demand and so many people getting vaccinated in the month of October.”

Seattle-King County Public Health spokesman Matias Valenzuela said the flu season typically begins in late fall and lasts through the spring.

“The flu season usually peaks around January or February, so there’s still time to get a flu shot and build immunity for the heaviest part of the flu season,” Valenzuela said.

And although the flu season arrived early this year, Valenzuela said it’s too soon to measure its severity.

Still, people are encouraged by health officials to get a flu shot, especially those considered high risk:

• People 50 years old or older.

• Residents of long-term care facilities.

• Women three or more months pregnant.

• All children six through 23 months of age.

• People who have heart, lungs and kidney-related diseases.

• People who are HIV-positive or have diabetes.

• Children between the ages of six months and 18 years who are receiving aspirin therapy.

Valenzuela said there have been no flu-related deaths in King County, although a 29-year-old Snohomish man who died last week had flu-related symptoms.

“A flu shot is one preventive step that everybody can do,” Valenzuela said. In addition, time-tested good hygiene can effectively prevent the spread of the flu. This includes covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue or hand, and washing hands regularly with warm water and soap. And people who are ill should stay home from school or work.

Influenza is spread by touching virus-contaminated surfaces or by breathing the same air as someone who has the flu virus.

“In the last two weeks or so, we’ve been seeing a lot of cases of flu,” said St. Francis Hospital spokesman Gale Robinette.

The staff at the Federal Way hospital estimates about 15 people come into the emergency room each day with the flu or flu-like symptoms. They are given face masks to wear while sitting in the waiting room.

“It’s an early flu season, and it’s already proven to be quite a busy one,” Robinette said.

While students are not legally required to get flu immunizations while attending school, educators are teaching preventive health measures when appropriate.

“Elementary schools are working hard on keeping kids informed about good hygiene and hand-washing as prevention,” said Federal Way Public Schools spokeswoman Deb Stenberg.

The school offered a voluntary vaccination health clinic Oct. 30 for teachers.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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