Two more flu-related deaths have been reported in the Tri-City area, bringing the total to 16 since mid-December.
It’s the highest local death toll from the flu in recent memory.
The two newly reported victims were men from Benton County who were at higher risk because of age or underlying health conditions, Benton-Franklin Health District officials said in a statement.
Neither had gotten a flu shot. One man was in his 50s and the other was in his 80s.
The 14 other people who’ve died in the Tri-Cities from the flu since December have been a mix of men and women ranging in age from 30s to 90s.
All fell into the higher risk category. It’s unclear how many had flu shots.
While flu activity in the area remains high, officials expect to see a decline soon.
However, “we still have enough flu circulating that people should not let their guard down,” Heather Hill, a nurse and the local health district’s communicable disease program supervisor, told the Herald.
She noted that flu circulates year-round.
This season’s primary flu strain – H3N2 – is particularly nasty. Statewide, 189 people are confirmed to have died as of mid-February.
Before this season, the deadliest local year for flu in recent memory was 2015, when six people died.
But that year was unusual. The three years before and two years after saw only one to two flu deaths.
Getting a flu shot remains the best protection and still is recommended this late in the season, Hill said.
With the shot, “you may still catch the flu, but you are more likely to survive it if you’ve been vaccinated,” she said.
Flu shots are available through pharmacies, health care providers and the health district. They’re recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
Pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with other health conditions are particularly at risk for flu complications.
To stay healthy, people also should wash their hands often and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, Hill said.
And they should stay home when sick to avoid spreading the illness to others, she said.