Health & Science

H1N1 vaccines still being encouraged

Reports of people coming down with H1N1 influenza have declined over the past several months, but that doesn't mean it's time to stop taking precautions, state and local health officials said.

The best way to be protected against the virus, commonly called swine flu, is to get vaccinated, said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the state Department of Health.

"It's still out there," Moyer said. "It seems like activity's picking up in the southeast part of the country. In our state it's percolating. ... That strain could come back at any time."

Five new H1N1 cases, all hospitalized, were reported in Washington during the week of Feb. 14-20, officials said. Testing is only being done in cases of pregnant women, hospitalized people or those who have died of suspected flu.

Two of those five involved people from Eastern Washington, Moyer said, but he wasn't able to determine what counties the cases were in.

Since Sept. 19, state officials have received reports of 1,394 hospitalizations -- 435 were on the east side -- and 76 deaths.

No one has died in the past six weeks from H1N1-related illnesses, Benton-Franklin health officials said.

Right now, officials say there are low levels of flu being reported and the vast majority are the H1N1 strain. The seasonal flu doesn't appear to be moving through the state.

If the swine flu starts hitting more people -- or the H1N1 strain comes back in the fall -- people will be protected if they get the vaccine, Moyer said.

"It's still a potentially very serious illness," Moyer said. "There's no delay and no rush to get it. There's plenty of vaccine so you might as well get it."

Next year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot. The 2010 influenza vaccine will have three vaccine viruses, including H1N1, Benton-Franklin health officials said.