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Tuesday, July 14, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Flu taking bigger toll this season

Flu deaths and hospitalizations in Spokane County so far this season are about twice as high as last year.

Since October, there have been 15 deaths attributed to the flu in Spokane County and 115 deaths reported in Washington. During the same time frame last year, there were eight deaths in Spokane County, according to statistics released last week by the Spokane Regional Health District.

So far this season, 353 Spokane County residents have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of the flu. Last year by this time, only 174 residents had been hospitalized.

Part of the reason for the spike can be traced to this year’s flu shot, which does not fully protect against one of the strains of flu that is prevalent this year, Health District spokeswoman Kim Papich said.

Vaccine manufacturers create their doses each year based on what strains of flu are being seen in the Eastern Hemisphere. One of the strains mutated since the development of the vaccine, lessening the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“It’s a more potent strain of flu and it does hit the elderly harder,” Papich said.

More than half of the flu-related hospitalizations in Spokane County have been people 70 or older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that this season’s vaccine reduces a vaccinated person’s risk of having to visit a doctor as a result of flu infection by 23 percent. That’s about half that rate compared to years when the vaccine and “circulating flu viruses are well-matched,” the CDC said in a report last month.

But Papich advised that people should still get it.

“There’s still some coverage,” she said. “Our flu season in Spokane hangs on pretty well through March.”

In Idaho there have been seven flu deaths in the counties served by the Panhandle Health District – Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, Benewah and Shoshone. All the victims were over the age of 50.

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