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Doctors urge flu vaccine as flu season becomes worst on record

SPOKANE, Wash. - We're not out of the woods yet this flu season, in fact it's now the worst flu season on record. 

Across the country, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise. 53 children have died around the country from the virus. According to data from the Centers for Diseases Control & Prevention, on average, 80-85 percent of children who die from the flu have not received the vaccine. 

In Spokane County, the flu has killed 23 people. 132 people have died across the State of Washington, and 51 people have died in Idaho. 

In Spokane, we're matching the national trend and this is also the worst flu season on our record. Hospitalizations are at numbers not previously seen. 

"Our rates have gone up this year compared to the last three years. I know we've seen 80 admissions to the hospital for flu related complications and our emergency room has seen over 190 cases of the flu as well," said Dr. John Ibarra, a doctor at Multicare Deaconess.

All of the last flu season, the same hospital had about 50 flu admissions and 140 patients visiting the ER with the virus. Flu season runs through May. 

But, if you start experiencing flu-like symptoms, that doesn't mean it's time to panic or even head to the hospital. Dr. Ibarra says in most cases, you should be fine staying home, drinking fluids and eating. 

"If they have common symptoms, such as cough runny nose sneezing, they should just use primary precaution, such as hand washing, covering their nose and mouth when they sneeze or cough," Ibarra said. 

But, if you try that and things seem to get worse, then you should think about setting up an appointment. 

"If they get shortness of breath or have a hard time breathing, to come into the hospital or call their doctor," said Ibarra. 

Doctors are also reminding people that the best prevention for the flu is the flu vaccine. They urge everyone to get the flu shot. 

"It reduces the symptoms and it prevents you from being contagious to your friends and family members," said Ibarra. 

There are rumors and concerns over the effectiveness of this year's vaccine, but doctors say even if it's not as effective as years past, any protection is better than no protection. 

We're only in the middle of February, but the CDC says it's still important that you get the shot if you haven't already. 

"It's not too late because even if you feel like flu has come to your community and now is decreasing... there could be a second wave and it could be a different type of virus," said Dr. Alicia Fry with the CDC.

Doctors say even if you think you're healthy enough and don't need a vaccine, you should take into account the health of those around you. 

"Besides immunity, I mean, you're helping other people who might not have defenses like yourself. So, people who have diabetes or cancer, or who can't get the vaccine for other reasons," Ibarra said. 

There is some good news this flu season though. Spokane Public Schools says it's numbers for student illnesses are normal. 

The number of sick students missing school is hovering around 5-7 percent, which the district says is normal for flu season.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Morrison says even though the district hasn't been hit hard by the flu yet, they are still prepared for things to get worse. 

February is the peak of flu season, and doctors say there is still a chance that things will get worse before we see any relief from the influenza virus. 


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