Flu epidemic: State could soon step in to help

Snohomish County reported its fifth flu death of the season.

The Washington Department of Health hosted a conference call on Thursday afternoon, speaking to concerned doctors from across the state. 

The goal: to assess what counties are being hit hardest by this year's flu epidemic, and what additional state resources can be brought in to help.

The conference call came not long after the Snohomish Health District released updated numbers on Thursday, confirming a fifth flu-related death in Snohomish County.  Hospitalizations caused by the flu have also hit an all-time high in Snohomish County.

"Most of us who are taking care of patients on a day-to-day basis have made the comment that this year feels just as severe as the H1N1 year which was the pandemic year," said Doctor Yuan-Po Tu, referring to the pandemic that occurred in 2009.

Tu works at The Everett Clinic, which is one of the flu monitoring sites for the Washington State Department of Health and the CDC.

"We saw the onset of this flu season really starting three-and-a-half weeks ago, with each week having much higher numbers than the previous weeks as far as the number of positive flu tests," said Tu.

For instance, for the week ending December 31st, The Everett Clinic tested 511 patients for signs of the flu. Of those patients, 244 tested positive for influenza. 

The numbers are expected to continue to climb.

"The average influenza outbreak season shows elevated levels of influenza for around 12 weeks, so we have not seen the peak of this by any means," said Tu.

He was one of many doctors that took part in Thursday's conference call with the Washington State Department of Health.

Tu said it's a collaborative effort between the state and local levels.  

A spokesperson for the State Department of Health said they're trying to get a better understanding of what hospitals and what health systems are being hit the hardest.  

With reports of full hospitals and overloaded emergency rooms stretching from Thurston County to King County and Snohomish County, she said they want to evaluate what resources the state has to help, and where those resources should be sent.

For example, the state could make more vaccines available in areas seeing the highest numbers of confirmed flu cases. 

Here are the latest details by county: 

King County: Emergency rooms in King County are seeing the highest number of flu cases in five years. However they haven’t peaked yet. Swedish Hospital in Seattle received 20 patients Wednesday, but three or four times that number are walking into their other locations.

Thurston County: The flu epidemic has gotten so bad that nine hospitals across Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Pacific, and Grays Harbor Counties have activated the Disaster Medical Control Center for the first time in 10 years. When activated, the hospitals collaborate to find available hospital beds and send ambulances to facilities that aren’t at capacity.

Snohomish County: Snohomish County reported its fifth flu death this week. The county has also seen the highest number of hospitalizations for the flu since records were first kept in 2009. The victims tended to be elderly – one was in their 90s, three were in their 80s, and one in their 50s.

More hospitalizations mean longer wait times for patients, and hospitals and EMS systems are struggling to meet the demand.

"The hospitals are all full," said Tu.  "The walk-in clinics are busy as well.  We are seeing levels we have not seen for several years because the last few years the flu seasons have been relatively mild."

The Washington State Department of Health is expected to provide an update on statewide flu statistics on Friday afternoon, as well as state resources available to help.

Copyright 2016 KING


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