A Benton County man in his 70s is the first confirmed flu fatality in the Tri-Cities so far this season.
He died last week, the Benton-Franklin Health District reported.
It’s unclear if he was vaccinated against the flu. He had underlying health issues.
While his death is the first from the illness reported in Benton and Franklin counties this winter, it’s not the first in the state. Across Washington, nine flu deaths had been confirmed as of Dec. 29.
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“We’d definitely say that flu season is here,” said Heather Hill, communicable disease program supervisor for the health district. She’s also a public health nurse.
It’s not too late to get vaccinated, Hill said.
Flu shots are widely available in the Tri-Cities — at pharmacies, health care provider offices and the health district. Flu shots are recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
It takes two to three weeks for people to become fully protected after the shot, so they shouldn’t delay, Hill said. People age 65 and older should ask for the high-dose vaccine, she said.
Flu can strike anyone, but young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk for flu complications.
“That is why it is so important that we cocoon vulnerable people with vaccinated people,” Hill said. “Whether you’re vaccinated or not, when you have significant underlying health conditions or (other risk factors), we know that catching the flu is much more likely to result in a bad outcome.”
Last flu season was the worst in the Tri-Cities in memory, with 20 flu deaths.
Nationwide, flu claimed about 80,000 people last winter.
Along with getting a flu shot, people also should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth to stay healthy, experts say.
They also should cover their coughs and stay home when sick to avoid spreading the illness to others.