Pierce County flu-related death toll climbs to 17; young child among latest victims

TACOMA -- A young child is the latest to die in a flu epidemic sweeping Washington state.

The child, under 10, is one of the 17 flu-related deaths reported in Pierce County as of Jan. 17, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department announced Wednesday. The name of the young victim was not immediately released.

Health officials said of the others who died in Pierce County this flu season, 14 were older than 60 and two were in their 40s.

The latest numbers on flu-related deaths in Pierce County serve as a stark reminder that Washington is going through one of the worst flu epidemics it has seen in years.

"The flu is far worse than a bad cold and in this case the virus has claimed a young life," Pierce County nurse and epidemiologist Matthew Rollosson said.

Positive tests for the flu and hospitalizations have recently gone down, officials said, but flu activity remains high in Pierce County. The flu season has been especially bad for the elderly, with the health department receiving reports of flu outbreaks from 23 long-term care facilities.

The flu season typically lasts from October to April. For comparison, there were 15 flu-related deaths in the 2015-2016 season.

The flu can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat and body aches. The best protection against the flu is getting a flu shot, officials said.