By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, declared the official start of flu season Friday.
The declaration means that health care workers at Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare and Forks Community hospitals must get a flu shot or wear a mask when working around patients.
OMC’s vaccination rate was 93.8 percent as of Dec. 5, hospital officials said.
Three people, including a child, died of the flu earlier this month in the Seattle area, the state Department of Health said Thursday.
There had been no reported deaths or flu-related hospitalizations in Clallam or Jefferson counties as of Friday.
“We’re definitely seeing [flu activity] picking up,” Locke said.
“Every week it’s more widespread than the week before.”
He added: “The level is still not at a full outbreak mode.”
Locke declared the beginning of the flu season after consulting with his counterpart in Kitsap County, Dr. Scott Lindquist, on Thursday night.
“We made the determination that it is circulating in the community,” Locke said.
Based on the trends, Locke predicted that the peak of the flu season will occur in one to two weeks as people return to work and school from holiday vacations.
Health officials are urging the public to get vaccinated — flu shots are available at most area pharmacies — and to follow simple preventative steps such as cover your cough, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and stay home from work or school when you’re sick.
“It’ still not too late to get a flu shot, although it typically takes 10 to 14 days to take full effect,” Locke said.
Flu activity has accelerated across the state, particularly in Western Washington, the health department said.
A Pierce County boy, who was younger than 12, died of flu complications earlier this month.
Two older adults in King County — a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s — died within the past two weeks, the department said.
The health department monitors the flu through cooperating labs that share samples to identify what kind of flu is circulating and anything unusual.
Health officials are on the lookout for the H1N1 Swine Flu that caused a pandemic in Washington in 2009 and the H3N2 flu that killed an estimated one million worldwide as the Hong Kong pandemic of 1968.
Locke said the latter strain appears to be the most prevalent this year.
“That tends to make people more ill, and, tragically, has a higher childhood mortality,” he said.
“Based on the early evidence, that’s the one that may predominate this year.”
The good news is this year’s flu vaccine covers all flu strains and is in good supply.
The health department has urged everyone from 6-months-old on up to have an annual flu shot. The shots are especially important for people 65 and older or who are vulnerable because of medical conditions.
An average of two children and 25 adults die of the flu each year in the state.
The worst flu season recently was 2009-2010 when five children and 95 adults died in Washington, health department spokeswoman Julie Graham told the Associated Press.
Flu is common, but the only confirmed cases that doctors are required to report are deaths. And those don’t include flu-related deaths.
The flu often makes a person susceptible to another illness, such as pneumonia, which is listed as the cause of death, Graham said.
“Any death from a preventable illness is upsetting, and it’s especially heartbreaking when a child dies,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a prepared statement.
“These deaths are a somber reminder that flu is serious and makes thousands sick in our state each year,” she said.
“With flu season picking up, it’s important to remember that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones with a flu shot.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.