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Flu strain leads to surge in late-season hospitalizations

March 30, 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Health officials say a late-season wave of influenza has caused a spike in hospitalizations across the Inland Northwest.

The Spokesman-Review reports the virus is a different strain than that which affected people earlier this flu season.

Officials with the Spokane Regional Health District say overall, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are significantly lower than last year, but the numbers for March were higher than deaths and hospitalizations seen in March during any of the last five years.

So far this year more 420 people received flu treatment in a Spokane hospital, with more than 100 of them occurring during March.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said this season’s flu vaccine was effective in preventing the H1N1 influenza strain that was prevalent early in the flu season. But he said the vaccine is not as effective in preventing the H3N2 flu strain, which has been on the rise recently. He still recommends that people take precautions against the flu, including vaccinating.

“If you’re unvaccinated, your risk for whatever strain of flu that’s out there is greater than those who have been vaccinated,” Lutz said.

About 21 people have died of the flu in Spokane County this year, and about 14 percent of them were vaccinated. Roughly a third of those people died after Feb. 25.

Lutz said the vaccine was effective 47 percent overall and 61 percent effective in children early on, but that number could change as the season continues. He said none of the children that have been hospitalized so far were vaccinated.

Amy Ward, a nurse and infection prevention manager at Kootenai Health in Idaho, says flu hospitalizations were also up during March in her region. She said this season is slightly unusual, and slightly later than normal.

“It’s definitely dragging on,” she said. “But there’s still time to get vaccinated.”

Katherine Hoyer, a spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health District, which covers the five most northern counties in Idaho, said 20 percent of people who come in with flu related symptoms test positive. There have been 32 deaths from flu in Idaho this season.

Symptoms include fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, headaches and fatigue. Some people may have mild vomiting, but that is more common in children than in adults.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com