Twelve people in Pierce County, most of them seniors, have died from the flu during the current influenza season that health officials are calling an epidemic.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported Tuesday that the flu fatalities occurred primarily among people 60 to 90 years old who had underlying health issues. The youngest victim so far was in her 40s.

Flu is at epidemic levels, resulting in flu-related hospitalizations and deaths at a much higher level than this time last year, according to the Health Department.

Flu seasons generally are from October to April. During the 2015-2016 season, 15 Pierce County residents died of flu, and in the 2014-2015 season, 25 such deaths occurred.

The current 2016-17 flu season, which has about three months to go, “is shaping up to be especially bad for elderly people,” said Matthew Rollosson, a nurse epidemiologist at the Health Department.

On Dec. 19, the first Pierce County death attrilbuted to flu in 2016-17 occurred. Officials reported another four flu deaths in the week ending Dec. 31. As of Jan. 7, the Health Department had reports of seven more mostly older adults who have died of flu.

In addition, 20 long-term care facilities have reported flu outbreaks. And the number of people that hospitals have admitted for treatment of flu-related illness has increased from three in mid-October to 265 as of Jan. 7, the Health Department reported.

Rollosson said getting an annual flu shot “is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu. Frequent hand washing and avoiding others who are sick also helps.”

She noted the flu is worse than a bad cold. It can cause days of fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Each year, thousands of people in the U.S. go to hospitals because of the flu.

In addition to seniors, people who health officials advise are most at risk of serious complications from the flu are children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, and anyone who has diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions.