SEATTLE — Washington had its deadliest flu season in five years, the Department of Health said Thursday.
Following two seasons of unusually low flu activity, flu deaths in the state increased tenfold this season compared with last year, the department said in an online news release.
A total of 262 Washingtonians were reported to have died from the flu, including 257 adults and five children, according to DOH.
In comparison, 1,749 Washingtonians died and 11,116 were hospitalized from COVID-19 this flu season. As of May 9, a total of 16,186 Washingtonians have died from COVID and 84,661 have been hospitalized.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 57,000 flu deaths and 640,000 flu hospitalizations occurred between Oct. 1 and April 29. The CDC estimated there were 5,000 flu deaths and 100,000 flu-related hospitalizations during the previous season.
Flu activity rose in Washington at the end of October and peaked by the end of November. By the end of April, there was only minimal flu activity, DOH said.
Despite an increase in deaths from the flu, this year’s flu vaccine was effective in preventing flu hospitalizations. The vaccine reduced the risk of influenza A-related hospitalization among children by nearly three-quarters and among adults by nearly half, according to the CDC.
Even with an effective vaccine, flu vaccination rates this season decreased nationally in certain groups, DOH said. Rates for children dropped more than 6% and rates for pregnant people decreased nearly 15% compared with pre-pandemic rates, according to the department.
DOH recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The flu vaccine “is your best protection against this serious disease,” said Secretary of Health Umair Shah, and “it’s especially important now that most of us are around other people again to get a flu vaccine every year.”
Masking and social distancing helped keep the number of flu cases low during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shah said, and the flu vaccine can help make symptoms of the flu milder and keep hospitalizations low if people do get sick.
Now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, the flu has a much higher chance of spreading, according to DOH. Continuing to practice healthy habits like frequently washing hands, staying home when sick and wearing masks in crowded spaces can help protect people who are most likely to be affected by severe flu disease, including people over age 65, people who are immunocompromised, children under the age of 5, pregnant people and those with chronic health conditions.