Washington state hospitals strained by tri-demic, now with ‘unprecedented’ flu cases

An unusual spike in flu cases - plus  COVID-19 and RSV means hospitals dealing with the triple threat of viruses are filling up.

“Like we’re seeing throughout the rest of the United States, we are seeing an unprecedented increase in influenza. Data just came out recently indicating that our hospitalization rate across the United States is at the highest levels in the last 10 years, and we’re definitely seeing that within UW Medicine hospitals as well,” said Dr. John Lynch, an infectious diseases specialist at Harborview Medical Center and UW Medicine.

Numbers from the Washington State Department of Health show over the past few weeks, weekly hospital visits for “influenza-like illness” increased from 1,300 per week (3  %) to nearly 6,000 visits per week (13  %). And those numbers are just from the 73 providers who share data with the Washington State Department of Health.

People who recently got the flu tell KIRO7 that it caused a particularly nasty bout of illness.

“It is the most painful cough. I wish I could explain it,” said Make Gatto from Gig Harbor. He owns Raft Island Roses and was worried about getting sick during the busy holiday season, right when they’re selling Christmas trees and wreaths. In fact, Gatto says his whole family got sick, as well as a friend who had to go to the hospital.

“My daughter got it first, which was terrible, she’s 11. She would cry after each cough so it was terrible. Cause you just sit there, gosh what am I supposed to do?” Gatto said. “She had a 104 fever so we took her in,” he said.

After nearly 14 days, Gatto still has a lingering cough and fatigue. His family is far from alone. The so-called “tri-demic” is pushing emergency departments to capacity and beyond.

“Every hospital is feeling overloaded from the smallest hospital to the biggest hospital,” said Darcy Jaffe with the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA). Jaffe is also an RN.

Different counties track data differently, but data from Pierce County alone shows nearly 4,000 people went to the emergency department or urgent care last week from influenza-like illnesses, making 14  % of all visits.

The numbers are similar by percentage for Snohomish and Pierce Counties.

Individual county lab-confirmed flu deaths in Western Washington show so far this season, flu deaths have reached at least 16.

King County:  nine deaths

Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties:  two deaths each

Whatcom County:  one death

“So terrible. If I was old and frail I’d really be scared because it felt like there was no stopping it,” Gatto said.

Data shows in Washington, people are overwhelmingly getting sick from Influenza A this year. Doctors say there are plenty of vaccines and still time to get the shot.

“The type of influenza that’s circulating appears to have a pretty good match with the vaccine that we’re using this year,” Lynch said.

WSHA also said there is a shortage of Tamiflu this year – so if you get sick and are looking for prescription treatment, it may be a challenge to access the drug.