skip to main content
caption: Erika Sandoval, a nurse with the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association, gives kindergartener Javier Garcia Campos a flu shot on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, at Concord International Elementary School in Seattle.
Enlarge Icon
Erika Sandoval, a nurse with the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association, gives kindergartener Javier Garcia Campos a flu shot on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, at Concord International Elementary School in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Flu could have a comeback this fall in Washington

Washington state virtually skipped past the flu virus in 2021. That's expected to come to an end soon.

As a new flu season kicks off, the Washington State Department of Health is advising people to get the flu shot now, because it takes two weeks for the vaccine to reach full effectiveness.

Already, the DOH, University of Washington Medicine, and Virginia Mason practitioners are sounding the alarm that the flu could rebound in this year.

"With more people returning to their daily activities, this flu season could be much more typical," according to Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary with the department of health.

The average flu season for the past eight years (2012-2020) led to about 160 deaths from influenza. But tracking from the DOH shows that influenza has been mostly dormant since the pandemic regulations began, with zero flu deaths recorded in Washington state in more than a year.

But there's opportunity for the virus to take hold this year, according to local physicians. Dr. Seth Cohen, an infectious disease specialist with UW Medical Center, says they are worried that as kids go back to school we may see a rise in influenza.

"And that's another reason to get both vaccinated for Covid and also influenza so that we minimize children developing symptoms, and that way we can keep them in school," he said.

Virginia Mason doctor Chris Baliga says an influenza surge could add stress to hospital leaders as we head into colder months.

Baliga says that before Covid-19, "every winter hospitals would struggle with capacity because of influenza patients, and for the last year there was hardly any because society was closed down, we were all masking, [and] schools were out.

"I do worry that we'll see more respiratory viruses this season and that just throws in another layer of complexity," Baliga said.

DOH officials say fewer people will have immunity to flu strains this fall, since the virus has been mostly dormant for more than a year. No one has died from influenza in Washington since 2020.

DOH tracks the virus year round, but starts anew each fall.