Flu hospitalizations not limited to young, elderly

What happened to Trent Swanson and Daniel Fickle — both relatively healthy men outside the normal at-risk age groups — is unusual, said Denise Stinson, program coordinator with the Communicable Disease Control division of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

But it is not unheard of for younger, healthy people to be hospitalized with severe influenza.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 60 percent of people hospitalized with the flu this season have been between 18 and 64 years old, according to The Washington Post.

“We probably have a handful of people every year that this happens to,” Stinson said.

Although the very young and very old are generally more at risk each flu season, Stinson said people in those age groups are more immune to this year’s H1N1 strain, the so-called “swine flu” that first struck in 2009.

“Influenza can be a very serious disease no matter what, though,” she said, adding that it is miserable for all people no matter the severity.

Health conditions that increase risk of severe influenza are lung conditions, diabetes and pregnancy. Obesity also is a risk factor for the H1N1 strain, Stinson said.

Trent Swanson suffers from asthma, which put him at higher risk.

As of last week, there were 138 reported hospitalizations from influenza in Pierce County and Stinson said more likely went unreported. Six flu victims died.

Hospitals in Thurston County don’t report the number of flu hospitalizations, but there have been two reported deaths countywide.

Everyone older than 6 months should get a seasonal flu shot, Stinson said.

“The flu vaccine works a lot better for healthy people,” she said. “We depend on the younger, healthier people to get the vaccine so then we can achieve lower levels of disease in all groups.”