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Tri-City flu-season deaths now total 20

Two more flu-related deaths reported in the Tri-Cities bringing the local toll to 20.
Two more flu-related deaths reported in the Tri-Cities bringing the local toll to 20. AP

Two more flu-related deaths have been reported in the Tri-Cities.

The latest victims are a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s. Both were from Benton County and had underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for flu complications.

They bring the local flu death toll to 20 people since mid-December.

“Overall, flu activity is decreasing. I am hoping that means we will not have to keep issuing these (fatality) updates,” said Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District.

This flu season “has been by far the worst one we’ve seen since I’ve been here, and probably the worst in the last decade,” said Person, who’s held the area’s top public health post for about six years.

While local flu activity appears to be dropping, Person still recommends getting a flu shot. The illness circulates year-round, and the shot “is still the best defense,” she said.

(This flu season) has been by far the worst one we’ve seen since I’ve been here, and probably the worst in the last decade.

Dr. Amy Person, Benton-Franklin Health District

Even if it doesn’t stop the illness entirely, it can help prevent the more serious complications, she said.

It can mean, health officials say, the difference between life and death.

Of the 20 people who’ve died in the Tri-Cities this flu season, about two-thirds were not vaccinated, Person said.

They all were at higher risk because of their age or other health issues.

One of the two most recent flu victims did get a flu shot, Person said. She didn’t have vaccination information on the other.

The Tri-City area’s flu vaccination rate in adults tends to be low, Person said, noting local health officials are working to change that.

In 2015-16, the adult flu vaccination rate was 39 percent in Benton County and 32 percent in Franklin County. That’s the latest season for which statistics were available.

Of the 20 people who’ve died in the Tri-Cities this flu season, about two-thirds were not vaccinated. All were at higher risk because of their age or other health issues.

This season’s primary flu strain — H3N2 — is particularly harsh. Statewide, 211 people are confirmed to have died from the flu as of the first week of March.

Along with getting a flu shot, health officials say people should wash their hands often and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth to stay healthy.

They also should cover their coughs and stay home when sick to avoid spreading the illness to others.

Pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with other health conditions are particularly at risk for flu complications.

If you fall into that high risk category and feel sick, contact a health care provider, Person said.

Flu shots are available through pharmacies, health care providers and the health district. They’re recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald

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