A Pierce County man died Oct. 31 following complications from the flu. The man in his 70s had chronic conditions that increased his risk of complications from the flu. This is the first flu-related death in Pierce County of the 2017-2018 season.
This flu season could be similar to the last, which was the worst in several years. In the 2016-2017 season, Pierce County had 50 flu-related deaths, as many as the previous three seasons combined: 15 in 2015-2016, 25 in 2014-2015, and 10 in 2013-2014. Flu season is typically October to April but can last longer.
“People can underestimate the severity of the flu, especially for the elderly or others with compromised immune systems,” said Nigel Turner, director, Communicable Disease Control at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Everyone should get a flu shot to decrease the likelihood of an outbreak and increase community immunity,” he said.
The virus is much than a bad cold and sends thousands of people to the hospital every year. The flu can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. In some cases, the flu leads to death. Even healthy people can become seriously sick from the flu, even healthy adults and children can die from it.
How does the flu spread?
Droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk carry the virus. These droplets can infect a person directly or through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. Be sure to:
- Wash your hands often with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your cough or sneeze.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
Why should I get a flu shot?
You help to protect yourself and the health of those around you when you get a flu shot. The Health Department recommends the flu vaccine for people six months and older. It’s also the neighborly thing to do. When more people in Pierce County get vaccinated, less flu spreads in our communities. Higher rates of vaccination mean fewer visits to the doctor and days missed from work or school. Although the flu is circulating now, it’s not too late to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from the flu.
Can I still get sick?
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but when more people are vaccinated, less illness circulates in the community.
Those who are immune compromised or cannot get vaccines because of medical reasons have better protection when people around them are vaccinated. Even if a person who has received the shot becomes ill, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications.
Where can I get a flu shot?
You can get a flu shot at many local pharmacies. Also, check with your healthcare provider about the vaccine. It’s not too late to get a flu shot, but do it now to protect yourself and those around you. Flu vaccines can take up to two weeks to take effect. Learn more about where to get the flu vaccine and other flu facts at www.tpchd.org/flu.
What are the side effects of a flu shot?
Every year millions of people get flu vaccines, which public health experts carefully monitor. Most people get a flu shot with no problem. Side effects include soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the spot of injection. These side effects are mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of the flu. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
What should I do if I have flu symptoms?
Some people are more at risk for flu complications, especially:
- Children under age five.
- Pregnant women.
- People with diabetes, asthma, or other chronic conditions.
If you are at higher risk for flu complications and you develop flu symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away. Antiviral medications taken within a day or two after the flu symptoms start might help people at higher risk avoid complications, including pneumonia, hospitalization, and death.
If you have no underlying chronic health conditions and are not among the high-risk groups, you can usually treat yourself or your child at home by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids.
When should I see a doctor?
See a healthcare provider for an evaluation if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Fever greater than 100.4 degrees that’s lasted more than four days (fevers may be intermittent).
- Fever that went away but has returned two or more days later.
- Coughing up mucus tinged with blood.
- Rattling chest sounds when taking a deep breath.
- Fainting spells, dizziness and/or severe dry mouth.
- Urinating less (or babies have less than three wet diapers per 24 hours).
- You are pregnant (pregnant women should seek immediate care if flu symptoms are present rather than making an appointment at an OB office).
- People younger than age 5 or older than age 65. People with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, cancer, etc. or other high-risk groups for complications from the flu.
When should I call 911 or be seen at an emergency room?
Seek emergency medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
- Bluish or gray skin color.
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Not waking up or not interacting.
- Sudden dizziness.
- Unable to talk in full sentences.
Children who are so irritable that they do not want to be held.
Get more information about the flu, including how to avoid it, vaccinations and where they are available at www.tpchd.org/flu.