First flu death of the season

By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

Pierce County has its first death of the new flu season, confirming warnings by health officials of the seriousness of the illness.

A man in his 70s who lived in the western portion of the county man died Oct. 31 after suffering from the flu. He had chronic health problems that increased his risk of flu-related complications, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Health authorities cautioned last month that the current flu season could be similar to last year’s, which was the worst in several years. This season’s first flu-related death occurred nearly two months sooner than the first flu-related fatality in the previous flu season. That death came on Dec. 19, 2016.

Flu seasons typically are from October to April. During the 2016-17 period, 49 Pierce County residents died from the flu. That number equaled the deaths recorded in the previous three seasons combined -- 15 in 2015-2016, 25 in 2014-2015, and 10 in 2013-2014.

“People can underestimate the severity of the flu, especially for the elderly or others with compromised immune systems,” said Nigel Turner, the Health Department’s director of communicable disease control.

The influenza virus is much worse than a bad cold and sends thousands of people to the hospital every year, Turner noted. The illness can last for days, inflicting fever, coughs, sore throats and aches. He noted that even healthy people can become seriously sick from flu and potentially die.

Regardless of individuals’ risk factors, everyone from infants over six months old to seniors “should get a flu shot to decrease the likelihood of an outbreak” of the illness through people contracting and spreading it, Turner said.

The more people who are vaccinated against flu, the less it spreads in communities, officials said. Although the virus has begun circulating, it’s not too late to get a shot, they added.

In addition to being vaccinated, people can fend off the flu by washing their hands frequently with soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and staying home if they’re sick.

Flu shots are available from healthcare providers and many pharmacies. Information on vaccine locations is available on the Health Department’s website at


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