By Hilary N. Karasz, Public Health – Seattle & King County
Based on monitoring of influenza-like illness levels at King County emergency departments and results of laboratory tests for flu, it looks like this season’s influenza B outbreak has peaked.
Even so, influenza B activity remains elevated at a relatively high level and is likely to continue circulating in our community for many weeks.
“It’s good news that we may be over the hump of the flu B outbreak but the risk for influenza persists. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s still a good idea — there is plenty of flu to come. ” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) levels are also high currently, a double whammy also impacting children especially hard. Influenza A is currently circulating at relatively low levels. Our weekly flu surveillance reports provide the most up-to-date information for King County.
The influenza B outbreak this year came early and is hitting children and young people especially hard.
It’s too soon to predict whether we will see a second outbreak wave with flu A, which also can cause serious illness in all ages and typically causes high levels of severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths in adults, with the greatest risk to older adults. Both flu A and B can cause serious illness in young children and those with underlying health conditions.
Because flu A has been less common so far nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that hospitalization rates and percent of deaths due to pneumonia and influenza remain low nationally. Because the majority of hospitalizations and deaths occur among people age 65 and older, with fewer illnesses among that group, we expect, on a population level, to see less impact in flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
What does this mean for you? It’s good news that we may be over the hump of the flu B outbreak but the risk for influenza persists. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s still a good idea — there is plenty of flu to come.
It’s important to remember that antiviral drugs are available and recommended for people at high-risk for flu complications. And, continue to stay home from work and avoid contact with others when you have the flu to prevent spreading it, especially to people who may develop serious flu infections.
Finally, remember to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.