Flu blamed for 19 deaths in state

The flu has reached its peak, and 19 lab-confirmed flu deaths have been reported across Washington state since December.

Only lab-confirmed flu deaths are reportable in the state, and many cases aren’t lab tested, so the actual toll of flu is likely higher.

“The flu can be a serious disease,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, interim state health officer.

“People of all ages can get very sick. Getting vaccinated is the best protection and can help people avoid severe illness, hospitalization and even death,” she said.

The virus is widespread in Washington. Most confirmed flu cases across the nation and in the state have been the 2009 H1N1 strain, which is covered by this season’s flu vaccine.

A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older. It’s especially important for people at high risk for complications from flu, including young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and people with certain medical conditions - such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes and neurologic conditions.

Nationally, estimates from November 2013 showed that less than 40 percent of the population had been vaccinated against flu, leaving a lot of people unprotected. To best protect people and communities from flu, 80 percent or more must be vaccinated, said Lofy.

For individuals who haven’t yet received their flu vaccine, health experts say now is the time. It takes two weeks after vaccination to be protected. Lofy expects flu to circulate in Washington state for several more weeks. Kids under nine years old may need two doses about a month apart.

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