This winter’s influenza outbreak, steadily increasing in severity since mid-December, claimed its first victim in Pierce County this week, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said Tuesday.
The victim, a woman in her 50s, had underlying health conditions and died in a local hospital, the Health Department said. The hospital reported her death Monday.
“This is sad news, and our thoughts and concerns are with the family for their loss,” said Nigel Turner, director of the Health Department’s Communicable Disease Control Division. “It underscores just how severe the flu can be for people of any age and especially for people who have underlying health conditions.”
During the week of Jan. 6, the Health Department received reports of 29 people hospitalized in Pierce County with lab-confirmed influenza. Statewide, about 100 people have been hospitalized with the flu this season. According to the state Department of Health, 11 people had died as of Jan. 10.
Health officials say the flu strain circulating this year is Influenza A 2009-H1N1, the virus that caused the so-called “swine flu” pandemic of 2009. The virus tends to strike younger age groups and can be severe, especially for pregnant women, children and for those with health conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
This season’s flu vaccine offers protection against the H1N1 strain, health officials say, and they are strongly recommending the vaccinations.
“Getting a flu shot annually is the single most important means of protection against the flu,” Turner said.
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. Some children under 9 might need two doses about a month apart.
Babies under 6 months are too young to be vaccinated, but the CDC recommends vaccinations for anyone in close contact with them.
TIPS TO AVOID THE FLU
To avoid the flu, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Departments recommends you get a shot and:
• Wash your hands 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 accessible.
• If you’re sick, stay home. Viruses spread quickly. Don’t share your germs with coworkers and classmates.
• Cover your cough. Use your elbow or a disposable tissue, not your hand.
• Keep things clean. Use sanitizing wipes or spray to clean counters, door knobs, telephone handsets, computer keyboards and mice, and other surfaces that you frequently touch.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693