18 flu-related deaths reported in Puget Sound region, doctors expect more

TACOMA, Wash. – More people are dying from the flu in Western Washington.

Several county officials are blaming at least 18 deaths on the virus and doctors believe that number could rise.

Health officials said they are worried about children and the elderly because those groups can be more susceptible to influenza.

Long-term care facilities are also being warned to contain new illnesses.

The staff at Tacoma’s Spring Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care are wearing personal protective equipment to keep influenza away.

“It’s to protect you and the residents from spreading infections,” said LPN Brin Gacita.

“We take the correct precautions that we need to take to make sure our residents are safe and healthy,” added executive director Tonya Hamilton.

The sign at the front door reminds visitors to stay away if they aren’t feeling well.

“My concern is the spread of infection,” said Gacita.

Many of the folks living at the facility are elderly, and many have underlying health issues, which could mean catching flu might be deadly.

That is why there is plenty of hand sanitizer everywhere, and staff members constantly on the move keeping rooms clean and patients healthy.

“We increased our care giving hours, we increased our housekeeping hours,” said Gacita. “We put everybody pretty much on precautions even if they didn’t have symptoms for their own protection.”

So far this flu season, county health officials are linking five deaths in Snohomish County to the flu, along with eight in King County, four in Pierce County and one Wednesday night in Thurston County.

“We’re seeing more hospitalizations,” said Edie Jeffers with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “Our emergency rooms are really busy.”

TPCHD said it has received reports of eight separate flu outbreaks in long-term care facilities during the last week of December.

“Flu can be dangerous to people in general, it can be dangerous to healthy people, but especially for the immune-compromised, people who are elderly who might have underlying health conditions,” added Jeffers.

Doctors are urging everyone who can to get a flu shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares details about this year’s flu season on its website.