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Health Department receives first report of flu-related death this flu season

January 14, 2014

Get a flu shot now to protect your loved ones, community against illness

TACOMA, Wash. - A Pierce County woman in her 50s has died in a local hospital because of the flu. This is the first flu-related death reported to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department during the 2013-2014 flu season. The death was reported to the health department on Jan. 13. The woman had underlying health conditions.

"This is sad news and our thoughts and concerns are with the family for their loss," said Nigel Turner, Communicable Disease Control Division director.”It underscores just how severe the flu can be, for people of any age and especially for people who have underlying health conditions.

For the week of Jan. 6, the health department received reports of 29 people hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza. So far this season, 93 people have been hospitalized with lab-confirmed flu. Statewide, Department of Health has reported 11 deaths as of Jan. 10.

Health officials say that the flu strain that is circulating is Influenza A 2009-H1N1, the virus that caused the influenza pandemic of 2009. The virus tends to strike younger age groups and can be severe, especially for pregnant women, infants and young children, and people with health conditions such as asthma and diabetes. But healthy people can also get the flu.

"This season's flu vaccine offers protection against this H1N1 flu strain," said Turner. "Getting a flu shot annually is the single most important means of protection against the flu."

When more people are immunized against the flu, it also helps to protect vulnerable people such as infants, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals, according to Turner.

Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, sick days - and it can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone six months and older. Some children under nine may need two doses about a month apart. Getting a flu shot is especially important for people at high-risk, including children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurologic conditions. Babies under six months are too young to get vaccinated, but people in close contact with babies should get vaccinated to protect the infants.

In addition to getting the flu shot, other steps you can take to prevent or reduce the spread of the influenza virus include:

  • Wash your hands - Frequent and proper hand washing is one the most effective ways to reduce the spread of germs. Wash with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of your hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water isn't easily accessible.
  • If you're sick, stay home - Viruses such as the flu spread quickly. Don't share your germs with coworkers and classmates.
  • Cover your cough - Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand, to cover your cough.
  • Keep it clean - Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephone handsets, computer key boards and mice, and other surfaces that you frequently touch.

Flu vaccines are available at many locations including health care professional's offices, pharmacies, and some local health agencies. The health department distributes free flu vaccine for children to medical providers throughout Pierce County. Talk to your medical provider for more information.

In addition, the health department publishes an extensive calendar of free and low-cost vaccination clinic opportunities for children as well as links to providers of free or low-cost flu shot providers for adults on its web site at www.tpchd.org/flu. You can also check the flu vaccine finder to find out where to get flu vaccine in your community.

Contacts:
Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager, (253) 798-2853 (desk), (253) 405-6822 (cell), ejeffers@tpchd.org
Nigel Turner, Communicable Disease Division Director, (253) 798-6057, niturner@tpchd.org

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