Health officials at the Washington State Department of Health say influenza season is in full swing and all indicators show sharp increases in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths over the past several weeks.

Health officials urge flu vaccine as the first line of defense for influenza and say there is still time to get a flu shot. Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age and up, and is especially important for people who are at increased risk for severe complications from the flu, and for health care providers and others who are in close contact with people who may have influenza.

Medical facilities across the state are seeing high numbers of patients for influenza and other currently circulating viruses. To help ensure that emergency rooms and urgent care facilities have space for other critical health needs, health officials want the public to know which symptoms of influenza require medical treatment, and when the illness can be managed at home.

“The flu can make people really sick, and over the past few weeks there has been a dramatic rise in influenza activity across the state,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, health officer for Washington State Department of Health. “Most healthy people who get the flu don’t need medical care, however people who are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about their illness, should contact their health care provider.”

Certain people are at high risk of serious flu-related complications (including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions). For a full list of people at high risk of flu-related complications, see People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications. If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor if you are not feeling well. Remind them about your high risk status for flu.

Health care providers will decide if influenza testing and treatment are needed. Antiviral drugs can shorten the length of the illness and make symptoms milder, but these drugs work better the sooner they’re started. It’s also important to not spread the flu to other people, so if you’re sick, please stay home and take good care of yourself.

While the past few weeks have shown a dramatic rise in cases, this is somewhat normal for flu during the winter. Every year the flu sickens and kills people throughout Washington – this is why people should get a flu shot – every year.

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