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Local health officials warn flu season puts everyone at risk

Flu season is in full swing in Washington state and flu activity is now classified as widespread, which means people are catching and spreading the flu in most areas of the state.

"The flu is something that everyone needs to take very seriously, especially if they are in a high-risk category," said Nancy Hultberg, Chief Nursing Officer at Sunnyside Community Hospital and Clinics. "This includes those over the age of 65."

Dr. Derek Weaver of Grandview Medical Center expressed concern that "...young children and pregnant women are also at a higher risk of contracting the flu. In addition, those that suffer from asthma, diabetes and heart disease also have an elevated rate of infection."

People die from flu every season in Washington and around the nation. Even healthy people can get very sick with the flu.

"Flu is a serious illness that can be fatal, and several Washington residents have died from influenza this season," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "Taking simple steps to prevent the flu can help people avoid this miserable and potentially dangerous illness. We urge people who haven't been vaccinated to do it now."

Ruth Stalcup, who oversees Sunnyside Community Hospital's clinics, said "Our clinics are available to ensure that our community members are protected from the flu. We encourage anyone who hasn't received their flu shot during this season to get that protection. We do our best to get people in the same day they request treatment."

Everyone six months of age and older is recommended to get a flu vaccine.

Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk, including people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, young children, American Indians and Alaska natives.

Flu outbreaks in several long-term care facilities around the state are a particular concern. Many people who live or receive medical care in long-term care facilities and health care centers are at high risk for influenza.

State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes sent a letter to facility managers urging them to encourage employees to get vaccinated to protect clients, patients and themselves from the flu. Visitors to these facilities should get the flu vaccine and delay visits if they're sick.

Flu often comes on quickly with symptoms that may include fever and chills, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches, and extreme tiredness.

Most people who get the flu will recover in less than two weeks, but some will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu. For some people, these complications can result in hospitalization or death.

The Department of Health urges people at risk for flu complications to contact their health care provider promptly if they develop flu symptoms. Antiviral medication - when taken within the first 48 hours of illness - can reduce the likelihood of severe illness.

More information can be found on the Department of Health website at doh.wa.gov.

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