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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Family, friends and flu; holidays the start of peak season for illness

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 27, 2017

By Sara Schilling Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK – Flu activity is ramping up.

The community is seeing the usual holiday uptick, as people gather en masse and out-of-town visitors bring new germs, said Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District in Tri-Cities.

Peak season likely isn’t that far off, she said. It usually hits in January.

The Tri-City area recently saw its first flu-related death this season. The woman was at higher risk because of pre-existing conditions, Person said.

Statewide, 10 lab-confirmed flu deaths had been reported as of mid-December, with 13 flu-like outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the state Department of Health.

Last season saw 278 confirmed flu deaths across Washington.

Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, health officials said.

It’s not too late to get protected for the height of flu season, Person said. “It generally takes up to two weeks for full protection. Since we haven’t hit our peak yet, (there’s still time),” she said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, with symptoms such as fever, chills, aches, cough and sore throat.

For most people, it’s unpleasant but not life-threatening. But it can lead to serious illness and even death.

Pregnant women, young children, seniors and people with other health conditions are particularly at risk.

However, nationwide “we do see deaths from flu in people who are healthy – young adults, middle-aged adults,” Person said.

“There isn’t anyone who doesn’t need protection from the flu, even if you think you can fight it off,” she said.

Along with getting a flu shot, people should wash their hands frequently and cover their coughs with their arms and not their hands.

Also, “people who are sick should stay home from holiday gatherings where influenza and other illness can spread. If you have symptoms of the flu, it’s better to miss some of the holiday fun than to risk infecting others – especially those people who are at higher risk of serious complications,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for infectious diseases, in a statement.

People in high-risk categories who think they may have the flu should contact a health care provider, Person said.

Flu shots are widely available through health districts, pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

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