Influenza has claimed the lives of two elderly Clallam County women, bringing the total number of deaths from the flu on the North Olympic Peninsula to four.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said that the two women were in their 80s.
Neither was vaccinated against the flu and both had underlying health conditions.
Influenza continues to spread across the state, killing over 40 people since Dec. 10.
“We’re making up about 10 percent of the deaths in the state, despite not being 10 percent of the state’s population,” Berry said.
“We think one of the primary drivers of this is we do have a higher population of elderly folks in our community and unfortunately relatively low uptake in flu vaccine by that population, particularly those in long-term care facilities where we have seen small outbreaks of the flu,” she continued.
However, health officials are starting to see signs of a plateau and even a decline in cases.
“On the flu front, we are starting to see the early signs of a plateau. So still very high rates of transmission, but it’s not skyrocketing the way it was a few weeks ago,” Berry said.
The most potent strain of the flu out there right now is Influenza Type A, or H3N2.
The way the health department tracks the flu is different from how it tracks other illnesses like COVID-19. They don’t count total numbers of cases but instead count influenza-type activity. When flu-like illnesses present in emergency departments, medical personnel test for the flu.
“Those numbers are still very high, well above the numbers we saw in 2019, but we are starting to see them plateau,” Berry said.
“It could potentially be the beginning of a downturn, but it will really depend on what we see after the holidays and people traveling and gathering,” Berry said.
The recent severe winter weather may have an impact on the spread of the flu by forcing people to change their plans around holiday gatherings.
“It could potentially help in some surprising ways,” Berry said. ” But with holiday travel and gatherings we do expect an uptick in cases, which is usually what happens.”
Berry noted that RSV cases began to downtrend heading into the Thanksgiving holiday but ticked back up.
“Most likely we will see flu and RSV cases tick back up after the Christmas holidays unless there are big changes in people’s travel plans or more certainly if people are really thoughtful about getting their vaccines, staying home when sick, or masking when indoors,” Berry said.
Overall the already burdened health care systems are preparing for an influx in flu and RSV cases after the holidays.
“Thankfully we have seen a significant drop off in RSV and flu in the Seattle area which has freed up some bed space for our patients, particularly kids with RSV to be seen at children’s hospitals that specialize in their care,” Berry said.
Both Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend had established pediatric triage units for kids with RSV and the flu that could not be transported to Seattle Children’s Hospital or Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma due to a lack of bed space.
“Of course, we prefer that none of our kids need to be hospitalized but now at least there are beds to take care of them,” Berry said.
Berry said that the biggest challenge facing hospitals is caring for elderly adults.
“We’re seeing a lot more flu, some RSV activity, and more COVID-19 in our elder populations and that is leading to ongoing strain in the emergency rooms,” Berry said.
Covid-19 is still present on the Peninsula with the latest numbers showing the case rate for Clallam County at 86 per 100,000 population with a total of 15,434 cases diagnosed since the pandemic began almost three years ago.
Seven Clallam County residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and a total of 189 residents have died from the virus since it began.
In Jefferson County, the case rate is much higher at 398 cases per 100,000 with a total of 6,536 cases diagnosed since the pandemic began.
Two Jefferson County residents are currently hospitalized with virus and a total of 34 residents have died from the virus since it began.
Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at email@example.com.