Flu deaths rise in Snohomish County; epidemic straining hospitals

EVERETT, Wash. -- The flu outbreak is causing major headaches at area hospitals, including long waits, and a lack of beds especially in Snohomish County, where five deaths there have now been linked to the flu. Hospitals there are seeing a record breaking number of patients.

Health officials say we’re only at the beginning of the flu season, and it’s why they fear the epidemic will get worse before it gets better.

Kids going back to school this week won’t help, either. As a third grade teacher in Snohomish, Jennifer Tanner knows how quickly a virus can spread.

“Kids are really great at spreading germs and sharing with each other,” said Tanner.

It’s why she’s especially concerned during Washington’s flu epidemic, which is putting a major strain on hospitals like Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

“We’re seeing a huge influx of people with flu or flu-like symptoms which is impacting  our emergency department and patients admitted to the hospital,” said Providence Everett’s Chief Nursing Officer Liga Mezaraups.

The Snohomish Health District says it’s seen more flu-related hospitalizations since the end of December, than it ever has before.

And on top of the flu, they’re dealing with the mumps too.

“I think our medical community and the health district have been responding fast and furious to all the diseases,” said Heather Thomas with the Snohomish County Health District. “It certainly does strain the workload that we have to test influenza, the hospitalizations, deaths and mumps as well as any other disease we have going on.”

From adding a satellite emergency room in its hallways to warning guests to use masks, Providence Everett says it’s doing everything it can to respond to the demand and try to prevent further spread.

“We’ve had calls with other clinics and other providers, the walk-in clinics to try to level the load and try to get help to people if they can,” said Providence Everett Chief Medical Officer Frank Anderson.

Providence and other health officials again are urging people to avoid going to the emergency room for flu like symptoms unless you also have underlying health conditions. They recommend instead seeing a health care provider or utilizing after-hour clinics. They say many providers also offer a way for patients to speak to nurses virtually.