Flu widespread in Washington; 7 deaths

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Influenza has claimed at least seven lives in Washington so far this season, the state Health Department said.

The two deaths last week and five this week were confirmed in lab tests, spokesman Donn Moyer said Wednesday. It's likely there were more flu-related deaths for which there were no lab tests, he said.

"This is the start," Moyer said. "We expect to see flu deaths going up now."

The flu is widespread in the state, meaning there are flu-like illnesses in half of the counties or more.

Most of the deaths have been in the Puget Sound area: one each in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties. There were two in Chelan County and one in the southeast region of the state, Moyer said.

The flu typically peaks in January or February, so there's still time for people to protect themselves with a vaccination. Hand-washing also is recommended to prevent spreading the flu.

There were 79 flu deaths in Washington last flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu virus crossed into being an epidemic this past week when the percent of deaths attributed to the flu hit 7 percent.

The flu is widespread in 36 states, the CDC said.

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