Snohomish Health District pushes for telehealth over ER and clinic visits as flu cases rise

Urgent announcement from Snohomish Health District today.

Looking at the green line, we’re off to a bad start to the flu season this year.Graphic courtesy of Snohomish Health District

Influenza activity is increasing rapidly and is expected to continue to increase through late fall and into the winter.

The rate of hospital visits for flu-like illness is now at least four times higher than the same period in 2020 and 2021, according to the Snohomish County Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending Nov. 12, 2022.

Of the nearly 1,200 flu tests done in the county, roughly 1 in 4 came back positive. This is almost double the positivity rate from the previous week. While the data for the last week (ending November 19) is not yet final, early indicators are that Snohomish County may be approaching 50% positive for flu testing.

In short, flu season is here, and it has arrived in full force after several seasons where disease prevention measures have kept flu activity unusually low.

Meanwhile, other potentially serious respiratory viruses are circulating. The Snohomish Health District has heard from health care providers as well as community partners such as schools and daycares that there has been a large increase in people getting sick compared to the past few years. It’s happening across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which issued an advisory earlier this month.

Respiratory syncytial virus – more commonly called RSV – circulates at very high rates. This disease especially affects children.

COVID-19 continues to spread at lower levels than in the past few years, but is expected to increase this winter.

These diseases can cause serious problems and hospitalization. There are currently very few beds in local hospitals, especially for children.

Pharmacies, clinics and stores are also experiencing shortages of some medicines for children. Health care providers, as well as parents looking for medication for a sick child, may have difficulty obtaining some high-demand options, including Tamiflu, over-the-counter cough medicines such as Robitussin and Delsym, and children’s Tylenol or ibuprofen. There is also a nationwide shortage of liquid amoxicillin, a common antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections such as ear infections.

“It is essential that we as a community do our best to keep our children, our seniors, our families and ourselves healthy,” said Dr. James Lewis, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “We know what works – get vaccinated, stay home if you’re sick, keep washing your hands and wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces.” Masking protects not only from COVID, but also from other respiratory viruses, including influenza and RSV.”

It’s not too late to get your annual flu shot and make sure you’re up to date on your COVID vaccination, including your bivalent booster.

“People 6 months of age or older should get vaccinated,” Lewis said. “Although vaccines do not offer 100% protection against getting sick, they greatly reduce the chance of getting sick enough to need hospital. These immunizations can also reduce the risk of passing the flu or COVID on to other people if you do become infected, helping to protect your family, loved ones and the wider community.”

Other ways to help:

  • Avoid unnecessary in-person visits to clinics, urgent care, or emergency rooms. Use telehealth options when possible. If you have insurance, you can call the nurse helplines available through your insurance provider and/or your healthcare provider. Check your insurance card, online account or documents; many providers list a number you can use for questions about symptoms and next steps.
    • If you are experiencing a medical emergency, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, broken bones, or uncontrolled bleeding, you should seek emergency care immediately. The goal is to avoid non-urgent visits and free up capacity to address these types of urgent medical needs.
  • If you, your child, or someone in your household has symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, sneezing, headache, runny nose, body aches, fatigue, wheezing, difficulty breathing, or a high fever, they should stay home from work, school, etc. activities. This includes sports, childcare, events or parties.
  • Wait until the fever has gone without medication for more than one full day and other symptoms have disappeared or improved before returning to work or other activities. If you test positive for COVID-19, stay home for at least five days after the positive test or the onset of symptoms, and wear a mask for at least another 5 days after leaving isolation.
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly and cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your elbow. You can also choose to wear a mask in shared public spaces. Please respect and support others who choose to disguise themselves, even if you don’t.
  • If you or a family member have underlying health problems that increase your risk of serious illness, talk to your doctor early about additional preventative measures or what to do if symptoms such as a bad cough or high fever begin. People at high risk may need antiviral treatment to reduce the severity of the disease.

Influenza information, including influenza surveillance reports, is available at www.snohd.org/flu.

Information about the COVID-19 vaccination can be found at www.snohd.org/covidvaccine.

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