Flu virus kills at least 6 statewide

SEATTLE- Health officials are warning the public to get vaccinated after a string of deaths related to the H1N1 flu virus in Western Washington.

So far, there have been six deaths total in King, Snohomish, Thurston, Benton and Kittitas counties.

Just before Christmas, Calandra Burgess' 5-year-old son, Ronan, started getting sick.

“We checked his temperature and it said 104.7.  He had that barking cough you would associate with croup,” Burgess said Monday.

That's what doctors thought Ronan had, but days later he collapsed at home and was transferred to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, where he died as a result of the H1N1 flu virus.

“In the last two weeks we’ve seen a dramatic increase in influenza activity, with multiple admissions into the intensive care unit and very critically ill people,” said Dr. Francis Riedo, medical director of Infection Control for Kirkland's EvergreenHealth Medical Center.

Riedo said three adults -- all between 30 and 50 years of age -- have died at the Kirkland hospital from H1N1 since Christmas. State public health officials are urging everyone to make sure they get the flu vaccine.

“The flu is here.  It’s at high levels now and we don’t know if it’s peaked yet.  I can tell you it will be circulating for eight to 10 more weeks.  Even though the vaccine takes a week or so to kick in, you can get some real protection from getting vaccinated now,” Dr. Jeff Buchin said.

Burgess said her son did get a flu shot.  Doctors said that even though this year's dose includes H1N1 protection in it, it's only about 70% effective, which is why it's important to see a doctor right away if you're not feeling well.

“If you have persistent fever or a cough or feeling short of breath or immune-compromised, seek medical attention and start on anti-viral therapy if you’re thought to have influenza,” said Riedo.

Unlike the 2009 swine flu vaccine shortage, there are plenty of flu vaccines still available at local pharmacies and doctors’ offices.  Anyone over 6-months-old can get one.

Visit www.flu.gov for more information about flu, and www.doh.wa.gov for statewide updates.

Two upcoming community clinics in Everett offer flu and whooping cough shots at no cost for uninsured, low-income adults.

-- 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Jan. 10 at Everett Station, 3201 Smith Ave.
-- 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 at Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave.

The vaccine for this current flu season is available at medical providers and pharmacies throughout the county and will protect against three or four kinds of influenza virus -- including H1N1.  Washing hands, covering your coughs, and staying home when you are sick are effective ways to reduce spreading and getting diseases. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others.