SEATTLE — Flu activity in Washington state is now considered "very high," according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
State health officials reported over 1,300 new flu cases from Nov. 20-26, more than double the rate in late October. Influenza type A has been the most common flu strain found in recent weeks, state health officials reported.
In the 2022-23 flu season, the DOH said there have been 11 adult flu deaths and two pediatric flu deaths. Flu deaths statewide jumped from seven on Nov. 19 to 13 by Nov. 26, according to the DOH's weekly flu report.
There was an average of 193 flu deaths between 2014-2020, with a peak of 296 deaths in the 2017-18 flu season, according to DOH data. There were zero reported flu deaths in 2020-21 and 26 in 2021-22, a big decrease that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and mask usage.
The DOH said 12.9% of physician visits between Nov. 20-26 were for flu-like illnesses, up from the normal 1.8% baseline.
Public Health Seattle & King County (Public Health) reported on Nov. 23 the first pediatric flu death of the 2022-2023 flu season.
An elementary-school-aged child died on Nov. 13 due to complications from the flu. It is the first reported pediatric flu death in King County and Washington state this season and the first in the county since the 2019-2020 flu season.
Public Health said it has seen an early and rapidly increasing flu activity this year compared to past seasons. The department said the death comes at a time during increased hospitalizations for respiratory viruses among children locally and nationally.
According to Public Health and King County, the positivity rate for the flu last week was 32%. At the same time last year, it was at just 6%. This trend in high rates of the flu is also being seen at Providence Urgent Care in Snohomish County.
“Our busiest clinic is used to seeing maybe 120 patients per day during peak flu season,” said Jason Montemayor, with Providence Urgent Care. “This year, we're sort of upwards in the 190’s to 200, which has impacted the wait times and impacted the amount of patients we can see unfortunately.”
Public Health Seattle and King County said it is not only seeing very high flu activity but is also seeing an extremely high volume of RSV cases and is concerned about a potential surge in COVID-19. The department said this could have a negative effect on our already stressed hospital system, which Montemayor is already seeing.
“There's already a staffing crisis coming out of the COVID years, which already limited the capacity hospitals could see,” said Montemayor. “And now with this surge of, we'll call them, virally infected patients that are seeking testing or feel like they're not doing well, are also just sort of packing in the waiting rooms.”
A Lynnwood woman in her 20s died last week at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, marking Snohomish County's second flu-related death of 2022-2023. A Bothell woman in her 70s died earlier this fall, which was Snohomish County's first flu-related death reported in the county since 2020.
Jason Montemayor, medical director for the northwest region at Providence, said increased flu activity was expected coming out of the pandemic, especially now that children are back in school.
"These respiratory illnesses are coming back and they have come back full force," Montemayor said.
The increased flu activity is also impacting hospitals and urgent care clinics, Montemayor said. More people are seeking treatment or looking to be tested and are "just sort of packing in the waiting rooms."
Montemayor said the region is at the "early part" of the peak influenza activity. He doesn't expect it to get much worse, but it could stay at its current "plateau phase" until around mid-January.
Most deaths have been for people with underlying health conditions or elderly people, the DOH said in a flu report.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from flu this year.
State health officials shared these guidelines to help prevent illness and protect those who are most vulnerable:
- Flu shot: Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot every year
- COVID booster: Everyone five years and older who received a COVID-19 shot at least two months ago is eligible and should get the updated booster
- Wash hands regularly
- Wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask when in indoor public spaces
- If you’re sick – even if you test negative for COVID-19 – stay home