As two strains of flu continue to infect thousands throughout Washington, health officials on Thursday reported that the first influenza-associated death this season involved a Pierce County boy.
Details about the boy were not released. Officials said only that he was younger than 12.
Two other flu-related deaths have been confirmed in the past two weeks — a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s, both in King County.
The boy’s death marks the first pediatric death associated with the flu in Pierce County since 2003. Four adults died of influenza last season, and 12 flu-related deaths were reported in 2009-10, during the H1N1 pandemic.
“Of course, this is very sad and very tragic, but it underscores the importance of vaccination,” said Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers.
Health officials said this year’s vaccination was an exceptionally good match for the virus, which isn’t always the case. It takes about two weeks after being vaccinated for people to be fully protected. It’s recommended that everyone 6 months old and older get inoculated every year.
Flu season struck early this year and the number of cases continues to mount, although the Health Department said it’s hard to get an accurate picture of how many people are coming down with the flu.
“Because most people who get the flu aren’t tested for the flu, we never hear about those cases,” said state Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Graham. “We don’t really know the actual numbers. We know the trends.”
Some of the trends include a higher presence of the flu in Western Washington, with most of the cases coming from a strain called Influenza A-H3. That is what the Pierce County boy contracted.
Five laboratories in the state participate in the World Health Organization, which tests specimens for influenza. Last week, according to the most current information available, 44 (or 12 percent) of 366 specimens tested by the private laboratories were positive for influenza.
Emergency room data in Pierce County on Dec. 17 showed a spike in fever for children ages 5-17, according to a Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department report. The department also said 10 county schools have reported at least 10 percent of students showing flu symptoms.
Yet, the number of outpatients seeking assistance at local hospitals remains below the baseline. The state reported 0.9 percent of outpatients came in for influenza-like illnesses last week, below the average of 1.2 percent.
“People underestimate its seriousness,” Graham said. “Unfortunately, we saw it can be very serious and it can be dangerous for all ages. It’s something people need to pay close attention to.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653