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June 15, 2019 | 5:49pm
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Flu activity surges, increasing demand on health care facilities

OLYMPIA — Influenza activity is high across the state and the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have increased sharply over the past several weeks, according to health officials at the Washington State Department of Health. Medical facilities, particularly in western Washington, are seeing high numbers of patients for flu symptoms.

“Most healthy people who get the flu don’t need medical care in a facility. To make sure urgent care facilities and emergency rooms can treat other critical health conditions, we encourage people to learn which flu symptoms require emergency medical treatment,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.

While many flu symptoms can be managed at home, people who are in a high risk group, are very sick or are worried about their illness should contact their health care provider immediately.

Health care providers decide if patients need influenza testing and treatment and may prescribe antiviral drugs to shorten the length of the illness and make symptoms milder. In addition to medical treatment, it’s important to prevent the spread of flu by staying home if you’re sick.

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Flu vaccine is the first line of defense for protection against this serious disease and there is still time to get vaccinated. Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and up, including pregnant women. It’s especially important for people who are at increased risk for severe complications from the flu, and for health care providers who are in close contact with patients with suspected flu.

“Last year the flu killed 296 people in Washington and thousands more were hospitalized – which is why you should get a new flu vaccine every year as soon as it’s available,” Dr. Lindquist said.

Washington state provides all recommended vaccines at no cost for kids from birth through age 18, including flu vaccine. Providers may charge an office visit fee or a vaccine administration fee, but any family that can’t afford to pay can ask to waive the administration fee.

For help finding a health care provider or an immunization clinic, or to learn the signs and symptoms of flu, visit KnockOutFlu.org.

The DOH website is your source for a healthy dose of information. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Sign up for the DOH blog, Public Health Connection.

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