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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

First flu death in Washington state this season is in Tri-Cities area

Hanh To, pharmacy student at WSU, prepares herself for a flu shot from second year pharmacy student MaryAnne Gellings in 2015 at the school’s south campus facility in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
Tri-City Herald

The first death related to influenza in Washington state for the 2023-24 flu season is a Franklin County woman in her early 70s, the Benton Franklin Health District announced Tuesday.

“This is a somber reminder that influenza is a dangerous virus, and we cannot stress enough the importance of vaccinations,” said Heather Hill, Benton-Franklin Health District’s deputy to the health officer and a public health nurse.

The flu vaccine is recommended annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people ages 6 months and older, including pregnant and nursing women.

Vaccinated people may still get the flu, but the vaccine will reduce the severity of illness and lower the chance of hospitalization.

The vaccine takes two weeks for immunity to build and protect against the flu.

It does not protect against other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, colds or respiratory synctial virus, more commonly called RSV.

This is just the beginning of the flu season statewide. The Washington state Department of Health says influenza-like illnesses were “minimal” over the previous week. Just 1.3% of 2,669 specimens tested were positive for influenza. Cases of RSV were more common.

People can get sick from multiple respiratory diseases at once in the late fall and winter. The health district says taking precautions during holiday gatherings can keep friends and relatives safe.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, it recommends washing hands often, covering your cough, disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated and wearing a mask, particularly in crowded areas and if you are ill, according to the health district.

Good indoor ventilation also can help reduce the chances of getting a respiratory illness such as COVID-19, it said.

If you are infected with the influenza virus, symptoms often come on more suddenly than for colds.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches and tiredness. Children, particularly, might also have vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people will recover from the flu in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people develop pneumonia or other complications which can be life-threatening, according to the CDC.

Those at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu include people 65 and older; those with asthma, diabetes or heart disease; pregnant people; and children younger than 5, with those younger than 2 years old at higher risk.