Four Tri-City area flu deaths in three weeks. What you can do to protect yourself now

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
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What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

Four Mid-Columbia women have died from the flu in the last three weeks.

The women — from Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties — ranged in age from 40 to 79, local public health officials said.

They all died in Benton County.

The women were in a high risk group because of pre-existing medical conditions and/or age, said Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District.

“Unfortunately, a majority of them didn’t have flu shots,” she said.

Flu activity is on the rise in the Tri-Cities. Based on a dramatic increase in positive flu tests and emergency room visits, “I’d say we have started our peak season,” Person said.

While flu is unpredictable, the peak season typically lasts about a month, she said.

Four local flu deaths is high for this point in the season, she said. It’s too soon to jump to conclusions, but “we are obviously concerned that this may be a more severe flu season,” she said.

Last season, the Tri-City area saw one flu death, with a total of 278 flu deaths across Washington.

Statewide, 29 flu deaths had been reported this season as of Dec. 30, with 26 flu-like outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the state Department of Health.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot this year, Person said. They’re recommended for everyone age 6 months and older and are available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices and the health district.

It’s not yet known how effective this season’s flu vaccine is in preventing the illness. That information, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doesn’t come until later in the season, Person said.

No matter what, “it’s still your best protection” — and it’s better for the population as a whole if everyone who can get a flu shot does so, she said.

People also should wash their hands often, avoid touching their faces, cover their coughs and stay home when sick to avoid catching and spreading the flu, Person said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, aches, cough and sore throat.

For most people, it’s unpleasant but not life-threatening. However, it can lead to serious illness and death.

Pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with other health conditions are particularly at risk and should seek medical care if they think they may have the flu.

For more information, go to bit.ly/WAflufacts and bit.ly/CDCflufacts.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald