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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane flu season makes return appearance for 2022

Hanh To, a pharmacy student at WSU, prepares herself for a flu shot from pharmacy student MaryAnne Gellings in this October 2015 photo. The Spokane Regional Health District reports flu cases returned during the 2021-22 season, but have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. Officials attribute mask-wearing and social distancing to the lower numbers.  (DAN PELLE)

As COVID-19 cases waned in Eastern Washington, influenza made its return.

Seven people died from influenza in Spokane County during this most recent flu season, typically from early October through the end of May.

Spokane Regional Health District reported on June 14 that there were 77 confirmed influenza hospitalizations within Spokane County during the recent flu season. This time last year, the report had one hospitalization in the county during the prior season, and no one had died from influenza.

“We definitely have seen a return of flu season as people have begun to transition into a more pre-COVID lifestyle,” said SRHD spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins.

“However, numbers are far from reaching pre-pandemic levels.”

Six long-term care facilities in Spokane County had outbreaks of the flu in the 2021-22 period.

Public health officials attribute such factors as mask-wearing, social distancing, better hand hygiene and children not in school during the coronavirus pandemic as key reasons that flu rates were so low for 2020-21.

Hawkins said that based on information from regional epidemiologists, public health officials don’t know a lot about asymptomatic flu cases, mainly because only tested cases are reported.

“What we do know, and what people should be aware of, is that you can be contagious one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick,” Hawkins said. “So, if you are exposed to someone who had the flu, you should be aware that you could be contagious before you actually experience symptoms and could potentially expose others who are at risk of severe symptoms.”

Those people at risk include pregnant women, those older than 50, young children and those with chronic medical conditions.

“This does make getting vaccinated for the flu every year important not only for your own well-being, but for those who may be potentially exposed before you realize you’re contagious,” Hawkins said.

Influenza cases were much higher during the 2017-19 periods. Statewide, 296 laboratory-confirmed influenza deaths were reported for the 2017-18 season, and 245 in 2018-19, reported the state Department of Health.

Most deaths occurred in people with underlying health conditions, or in people with no pre-existing conditions but who were elderly.

People who have the flu often feel some or all of certain symptoms that can include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and extreme fatigue.

During this recent season, the district was aware of many cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, among children. However, RSV is not a reportable virus, so SRHD doesn’t have county-level data for it.

“Anecdotally, we have received reports of increased respiratory illnesses, including RSV, that we typically see this time of year among children,” Hawkins said.

The CDC does have some data at the state level for RSV.