Three die of flu on Peninsula, public health officals say

A fourth death said to have been in Seattle

PORT ANGELES — Three North Olympic Peninsula residents, all with underlying disorders, have died from laboratory-confirmed influenza in Clallam and Jefferson counties this month, public health officials said.

Another Clallam County resident was reported by his employer to have died of the flu in Seattle.

Two Clallam County men in their 70s died at Olympic Medical Center on March 2 and March 10, said Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“They both were pretty sick from other things at the time,” Unthank said Thursday.

A 62-year-old Jefferson County man, who had an underlying lung disease, died this week at Jefferson Healthcare with a documented case of influenza, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

It was announced at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday that a manager at Kokopelli Grill in Port Angeles had died of the flu.

Unthank said she could confirm no other flu deaths in Clallam County.

Kokopelli Grill and Coyote BBQ Pub owner Michael McQuay said Jeff Pearson died Tuesday at Harborview Medical Center of complications of influenza after contracting the flu while on vacation in Hawaii.

Pearson was 45.

“He was general manager at both restaurants and my best friend,” McQuay said Thursday.

Pearson was in good health before he caught the flu, McQuay said.

“He was absolutely the best human being I’ve even met in my life,” McQuay said.

“He was the most generous, caring, loving man. Hard work was part of his DNA. He was so beloved by everybody who met him.”

A celebration of Pearson’s life will be at 2 p.m. March 31 at Kokopelli Grill.

Locke said the majority of flu deaths occur in patients who are over 70 and have underlying health conditions.

“Influenza sort of pushes the person over the edge,” Locke said.

“We can see deaths in people who are perfectly healthy, but the majority occur in the very young, very old and those with chronic disease, especially lung disease.”

The state Department of Health reported 70 laboratory-confirmed, flu-associated deaths as of March 2.

When a flu death occurs, the information is relayed from the hospital where the death occurred to the state before it is disseminated to county health departments, Locke said.

There were 296 lab-confirmed flu deaths statewide last winter, which was categorized as a “high severity season.” Of those deaths, 228 occurred in patients 65 and older.

While the current flu season is not as severe as last year’s, Unthank said influenza activity is “still quite high” and is “happening later in the season.”

“We’re seeing particularly high rates of flu in schools,” Unthank said.

Olympic Medical Center reported last week record numbers of visits to its physician clinics and a “dramatic rise” in influenza-positive samples.

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue.

Health officials stress that the best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated.

In addition to flu shots, OMC provided the following tips to prevent infection:

• Avoid close contact with other sick people.

• If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.

• When sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

• Wear a mask if you are planning to visit a health care facility.

For information on the flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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