Flu death toll climbs to 24 in Washington and likely to rise, state says

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- There have been at least 24 lab-confirmed flu deaths in the state so far, and the number is likely to climb, the Department of Health said Friday.

Based on the week ending Dec. 31, "Twenty-four laboratory-confirmed influenza deaths have been reported since week 30 of 2016, all influenza A," the state Health Department said. "All deaths have occurred in people with underlying health conditions."

Of the 24 deaths, 22 of them occurred among people 65 or older, the state said. The other two deaths were among people aged 50-64. It did not break down the counties where the deaths occurred, but earlier results showed most were in the Puget Sound region.

Department spokesman Dave Johnson declined to provide a breakdown of the deaths by county,  saying he wasn't sure if the department collected the information.

During the week ending Dec. 31, the department said 255 out of  1,011 specimens in the state tested positive for influenza -- 26 for influenza A (H3N2) and 229 for influenza A (not stereotyped). "Flu activity is increasing," it said.

Based on the Centers for Disease Control statistics, the western region in the country, which includes Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho, had the highest rate of positive flu tests in the country (27.4%) in the week ending Dec. 31. The previous week's rate was 18.5%.

Hospitals around the state have been struggling to find beds for the sick. The News Tribune of Tacoma reports (https://goo.gl/ixOvNS ) that some have been canceling elective surgeries and sending patients to other facilities. The state, meanwhile, is urging only the sickest or at-risk flu patients to use emergency rooms.

Officials say the epidemic likely hasn't peaked yet.