Flu deaths in Washington break 100; here are counties hardest hit

As the flu rages nationwide – in what's shaping up to be the worst in nearly a decade – Washington state is no exception in its share of influenza-related cases.

With it widespread in the state, local hospitals are seeing an elevated demand for patients with flu-like symptoms, and long-term care facilities have endured outbreaks.

>> Related: Flu season getting worse: Death toll rises to 37 children nationwide 

As of the latest Washington Department of Health flu assessment, 151 people have died from a lab-confirmed, flu-associated death.

Most people who died this season were over the age of 50 – though the death tally lists a child under 4 years old – and they had underlying health conditions.

Here’s a look at the deaths last year by county.

As for why King, Snohomish, and Pierce have the highest number of deaths, leaders logically point to the dense populations of those counties and vulnerable individuals within it.

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The numbers for the current flu season are on track with those of the last one. The 2016-2017 season was one of the deadliest in Washington state in 10 years; 250 people died with the most in King County.

"One very important reason that King County would have more flu deaths is that our population is almost a third of the state total – and so we'd expect to see about a third of all deaths in the state," King County health department Public Information Officer Hilary Karasz told KIRO 7 in early January.

“And, it’s super important to remember that not all flu deaths are reported, so the numbers across the state are likely underreported.”

At this point last year, 214 people had died. Here’s a look at the deaths by county

The state changed the way it tracked flu deaths in annual reports after the 2009-2010 season with the H1N1 pandemic.

Despite hospitalizations trending downward in King County and elsewhere, reported flu deaths have been on the rise statewide. As death totals hit over 100 people in the 2014-2015 season, the H3N2 strain was starting to become the predominant flu virus in Washington.

There are multiple known strains of the flu: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B viruses.Typically, H3N2 brings a more severe flu season. It’s a type that is associated with higher levels of hospitalization and deaths.

H3N2 is the predominant strain for the current season, again. Health leaders encourage people – especially the elderly, the very young, and people with underlying conditions – to get the flu shot, even if we don’t know how well it will match the flu viruses throughout the season.

"Last year in the U.S., vaccine effectiveness for influenza A H3N2 was 34 percent, and there have been no significant mutations detected in this strain since the last season," King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin wrote in a blog post. "The bottom line is that even though we cannot predict which strains will predominate in the U.S. this season, it is likely that influenza vaccination will provide meaningful protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death."

KIRO 7 News asked about the trends in people getting the flu shot, but Washington State Department of Health said it does not have complete statistics for adults who have or have not received it.

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