The deadliest local flu season in recent memory has claimed two more Tri-Citians.
The Benton County women — one in her 30s and one in her 70s — both were at increased risk because of other health conditions or age, the Benton-Franklin Health District reported Monday.
They bring the Tri-City death toll to 18 since mid-December, dwarfing local flu-related fatality numbers from recent years.
“It is definitely something that we need to be taking seriously. Influenza is dangerous. It is a life-threatening infection,” said Heather Hill, a nurse and the district’s communicable disease program supervisor.
One of the women had been vaccinated; the other didn’t get a flu shot until she’d already was sick, Hill said.
In all the Tri-City flu victims include 11 women and seven men. Two were in their 30s and the rest ranged in age from 40s to 90s.
Although it’s late in the season, flu activity remains high and people who aren’t yet vaccinated should get a flu shot, she said.
They’re recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with underlying medical problems are particularly at risk for flu complications.
Even if someone typically is healthy, they still should get vaccinated to protect the greater community, Hill said.
“We know that to decrease the rate of infection, we need well over 90 percent of the population vaccinated,” she told the Herald.
She didn’t have a firm vaccination rate for the Tri-Cities, but said it appears to be far below that.
While the flu shot doesn’t always stop people from becoming sick, it’s still the best bet to protect against flu — and it can mean the difference between life and death, Hill said.
“If you get vaccinated you will (muster) at least some immune response and that may be enough to save you from dying from the flu,” she said. It also tends to make the illness shorter and less severe.
This flu season has been the worst in the Tri-Cities for as long as public health officials can remember.
In 2015, six people died — and that was unusually high. The three years before and two years after saw only one to two flu deaths each.
Statewide, 200 people have died from the flu since October.
This year’s primary strain, H3N2, is particularly nasty, associated with more hospitalizations and deaths than other seasonal flu types.
Some relief may be on the way.
“Today’s flu data show activity is down significantly for the second consecutive week, which means we peaked in early February,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told The Washington Post last week.
“However, this is about the same level of influenza-like-illness that we saw at the peak of last season, so there is still a lot of flu out there.”
Along with getting a flu shot, Hill urged people to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
They also should cover their coughs and stay home when sick to avoid spreading the illness to others, she said.
Flu shots are available through pharmacies, health care providers and the health district.