Spring bout of more 'severe' flu strain hitting Washington

Department of Health update on flu activity in Snohomish County

SEATTLE — Washington state is getting hit hard by a late-season flu outbreak – specifically, a more severe strain of the flu.

Data from the Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH) shows the state is seeing the highest number of hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms, all season.

Swedish Hospitals reports it has had about 800 people go to their hospitals for the flu from Feb. 25 to the end of March – with 778 Influenza A, and 10 for Influenza B.

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“In general I would say the whole state is suffering from the flu right now,” said Vivian Hawkins, WA DOH epidemiologist and state influenza coordinator.

“Oh yeah, it's knocking everybody out,” said Tricia Simpson of Lynwood, who said she just got over the flu.

The state's health department shows this year's influenza-like illness hospital visits this year appears to be at the highest it's been all season. This time last year, the flu season was nearly over.

“Here we are already in April. So it has been a really long flu season and we're seeing a lot of flu illnesses and unfortunately flu deaths even this late into the year,” Hawkins said.

The flu has killed 139 people so far this season.

In western Washington, Pierce County is seeing the highest number of flu deaths this season- 32 people so far. (Compared to 23 in King County, and 17 deaths in Snohomish County.)

Simpson, a nanny, said the flu made her severely sick.

“Three weeks of being completely sick. A week in bed without being able to move. Yeah really bad,” Simpson said.

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​The DOH said there was one wave of the flu that hit Washington in January, mostly of the Influenza A, H1N1 strain.

That round sickened Shoreline mom, Jennifer Abramski, and her three kids.

“It was one right after another, in about a five day stretch. Everyone overlapped each other,” Abramski said. “Completely incapacitated about three days, four days for one of my kids. High fever, the whole nine yards, she said.

But now the DOH says there's a different, more severe strain primarily making people sick – H3N2, another strain of Influenza A.

“The CDC has found that Influenza A, H3N2, can cause more serious illness, especially in older people. And unfortunately most the deaths that we see are in older people,” Hawkins said.

Simpson says her recent bout with the flu developed complications, causing laryngitis.

“The coughing was like your insides were going to come out it was so bad,” Simpson said.

Maps from the CDC map shows Washington's flu activity is still high at Week 12.

And the DOH said it's tough to say if we've seen the worst.

This year's flu vaccine is about 47 percent effective, and slightly less effective for the more severe H3N2 strain.

The Department of Health said with weeks more of flu likely ahead, the vaccine is best defense we have -so if you haven't gotten vaccinated, you should.