Influenza (also known as flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses, according to the Yakima Health District website site.

It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all these symptoms:

Fever or feeling feverish/chills

Cough

Sore throat

Runny or stuffy nose

Muscle or body aches

Headaches

Fatigue (tiredness)

Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than in adults.

YAKIMA — County health providers have seen a spike in the number of flu-like cases being reported, a pattern echoed by the Washington Department of Health.

While most people don’t necessarily need medical care, health district officials encourage flu victims to stay home.

“Usually we see the peak of flu session in January,” announced Yakima Health District Disease Control Director Melissa Sixberry.

To have the increase in flu cases hit in late February early March is unusual, she explained.

In the past week, as the weather has gotten better, people are starting to get out more, and “… reports of flu cases have jumped from 58 to 158 in the last week,” she declared.

The sharp increases in the Yakima Valley is reported statewide with DOH reporting 93 deaths related to lab-confirmed flu.

“There has also been a surge in the number of flu cases, hospitalizations over the past several weeks,” said a statement provided by Kristen Maki, DOH strategic communications office.

The seriousness of the jump in reported cases has area hospitals, like Virginia Mason Memorial, announcing it will restrict the number of visitors that are allowed in patient rooms, Sixberry added.

“Children,12 and under, are not allowed to visit the hospital,” she said.

Sixberry reported that all valley schools within Education Service District 105 are seeing an increase in flu-related illnesses. Schools inform the health district when flu absences show a greater than 10 percent increase.

Recent increases in reported flu-related cases are causing the county health district to remind people that it is not too late to get their flu shots.

“Get those immunizations up to date,” Sixberry urged.

“One of the most important things someone can do to protect their health and the health of others is to get vaccinated according to the recommended immunizations schedule,” she urged.

Getting vaccinated helps to protect high risk groups such as children, those that are 65 and older and other at-risk populations from getting sick.

“Last year the flu killed 296 people in Washington and thousands more were hospitalized — which is why you should get a new flu vaccine every year as soon as it’s available,” Dr. Scott Lindquist, State epidemiologist for communicable disease, explained in a statement.

Washington state provides all recommended vaccines at no cost for children from birth through age 18, including flu vaccine.

Unvaccinated people are not only at higher risk for illness but can spread the illnesses to others who might not be able to receive vaccines due to health conditions.

To further help prevent the spread of the illness, Sixberry cautioned people to frequently wash hands, cover sneezes and coughs, and stay home when sick, and “…get your vaccines.”

Know the flu symptoms to look for and when to seek care if needed. Most people can stay home with mild symptoms.

Check with health providers to make sure they are up to date on all necessary immunizations.

If you have children under age 18, contact a family health provider to see if the children can participate in the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. It provides free immunizations to children under 18.

Check the Yakima Health District website for a list of participating providers in the county.

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