Fever, cough and headache caused by the flu are widespread in Washington, the state Department of Health said Friday.
Previously the flu had been at a regional level. Its status was upgraded in a new report that shows the flu is in more than half of the communities in the state, spokesman Donn Moyer said.
Widespread flu is not unusual, but the activity appears to be increasing and could be worse than the previous two seasons, which were considered mild, Moyer said. The activity seems to be a little early. It typically peaks in January and February.
In Pierce County, flu is circulating “at moderate levels,” according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
“Since Dec. 23, emergency room data have shown increased numbers of patients in all age groups presenting with respiratory symptoms,” the agency reported Friday. “Since Jan. 3, we have received reports from six schools with at least 10 percent of students absent.”
So far this seasons, six people have died of the flu in Western Washington, including one child. The state Health Department reported the first three deaths in December: a 12-year-old Pierce County boy, and a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s in King County.
Three more December deaths were reported last week by Snohomish County: a Bothell woman in her 40s, an Everett woman in her 80s and an Edmonds woman in her 80s.
Those are laboratory-confirmed flu deaths. Officials believe the flu is a complicating factor in more deaths, including that of a Pierce County woman in her 70s who died the week of Christmas.
Statewide, there were 18 flu deaths in 2011-12 and 36 the previous year. The most state deaths were 98 in the swine flu season of 2009-10.
“Every one of these deaths is tragic, especially one that happens to have been a child,” Moyer said. “But the numbers are not unusual.”
The department urges residents to take the risk seriously and head off the aches, stuffy nose and fatigue with a flu shot.
There is no shortage of the vaccine, Moyer said. The shots are recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. The state pays for the vaccine for children, although parents still might be charged a fee for the injection.
People who get a flu shot are 62 percent less likely to have to see a doctor for flu-like symptoms, said Edie Jeffers of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Health officials recommend that people with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to avoid spreading the virus. Rest, liquids and over-the-counter medicines are common treatments. Antibiotics don’t work because it’s a viral illness.
Nationally, though flu is widespread in all but three states, the number of hard-hit areas has declined.
The flu season got under way a month early, in December, driven by a strain that tends to make people sicker.
However, the latest numbers hint that the flu season might already have peaked in some spots. Flu was widespread in 47 states last week, up from 41 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The only states without widespread flu were California, Mississippi and Hawaii.
The number of hard-hit states fell to 24 from 29, places where larger numbers of people were treated for flu-like illness. Now off that list: Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina in the South, the first region hit this flu season.
Recent flu reports included holiday weeks when some doctors’ offices were closed, so it will probably take a couple of more weeks to get a better picture, CDC officials said Friday. Experts say so far say the season looks moderate.
Since the swine flu epidemic in 2009, vaccination rates have increased in the United States, but more than half of Americans haven’t gotten this year’s vaccine. The vaccine is reformulated annually, and this year’s is a good match to the viruses going around, officials said.News Tribune staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.