Fourth flu fatality in Washington

December 4, 2003


EDMONDS, Wash. - What started as a nasty flu season appears to have taken a deadly turn in Western Washington - an otherwise healthy 29-year-old man died on his way to Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, north of Seattle, Tuesday night.

Stevens hospital medical director John Todd said the man had been diagnosed with Type A flu just a day ago.

Lab technicians are busy testing for flu from nasal cultures.
The death in Edmonds would become the fourth known flu fatality in Washington state this fall. The other three deaths occurred at nursing homes in Yakima county.

Overall, this flu season has been anything but normal. Microbiologists, like Kris Ainsworth in an Everett, Wash., lab are swamped, processing nasal cultures. The influenza test works much like a pregnancy test - a purple triangle confirms the flu, while a single dot is negative.

Labs have been so busy because the Everett clinic system reports more than twice as many tests in November alone. As of last year, among the tests processed, about 40 percent have tested positive for the flu.

Experts say part of the reason why so many people have the flu is because the virus is striking very early this year. Many people did not get their flu shots before it hit. While different variations of the flu are going around, the director of Everett Clinic's flu shot program said the vaccine is still very effective.

“We have had a drift strain...not an exact match,” Dr. Yuan-po Tu said. “However, the vaccine does provide cross protection and cross reactivity.”

Also, Dr. Tu said, a "para-flu" is also circulating. It’s not a full-blown influenza but a virus that can develop into a croup-like cough.

It may take three weeks for flu sufferers to feel 100 percent well again, said urgent care physician Dr. Harlan Rountree. Across the board, doctors said it is still not too late to get a flu vaccine because no one is sure how long the flu season may last.

If you're thinking about getting a flu shot, the King County Health Department said it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.


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