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Worst flu season in years has arrived

January 18, 2013

With California’s flu season expected to hit its peak in the coming weeks, local health officials are saying now is the time for residents to get their flu vaccine. Vaccines are available from various healthcare providers. Photo courtesy metrocreativegraphics.com

 

Influenza is hitting the nation harder than it did at this point last year and it could be peaking in some parts of the country. Though the flu has not reached its peak in California, local health officials are telling residents to be prepared and get their vaccines. 

Inyo and Mono Health Officer Dr. Richard Johnson said Friday that local out-patient clinics, Northern Inyo Hospital and family healthcare providers throughout Inyo County are reporting signs of the flu.

“We have reports from virtually all providers,” Johnson said. “We’ve had positive tests come back from the hospital and we’re expecting to see the peak in the next couple of weeks.”

Johnson added that local health officials have not yet noticed an increase in school absences, but he expects to see an increase in the number of students missing classes as the flu spreads locally.

Johnson said those who have not yet gotten vaccinated against the seasonal flu should do so, “and sooner rather than later.” 

In addition to just beating the anticipated peak, Johnson said the supply of flu vaccines is barely keeping up with the increased demand. 

This flu season, vaccine makers were expected to supply the U.S. market with some 135 million doses. As of Jan. 4, roughly 128 million doses had been distributed. Given reports of spot shortages, vaccine seekers may have to call more than a single healthcare provider to receive their dose. Johnson said regular shipments of the vaccine are being delivered to local providers, but an increased demand has made it difficult for providers to keep the vaccine in stock. 

Johnson suggested residents try contacting their healthcare provider, a pharmacy or the health department.

“The effectiveness of the current seasonal influenza vaccine is 62 percent, which means that 38 percent of us who get vaccinated could still contract influenza,” Johnson said. “These are still good odds, with this vaccine being a perfect match for circulating strains of the flu virus. The flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it is the best tool by far for preventing the flu. It is well worth the effort, and decades of experience show that it is very safe.”

 

Fear of ‘Bad Year’ Becoming a Reality

In early December 2012, the CDC said that given the early onset of the 2012-13 influenza season and the particular mix of viruses in circulation, this could be a bad year. The ensuing weeks have proved them right. 

Johnson said patients with influenza-like illnesses have flooded hospital emergency departments in the Northeast, – “so much so that public health emergencies have been declared in Boston, New York state and Indiana.”

The CDC’s latest weekly surveillance report of influenza activity, covering the first week of 2013 and ending Jan. 5, continues to support the “bad year” outlook. 

According to the report, 47 states reported widespread geographic influenza activity, which is six more than the week before. In comparison, no state reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the first week of 2012. 

Nationwide, 20 children have died of the flu this season. 

“Although California is one of the three states only reporting regional activity, emergency department visits in San Diego for influenza-like illness have doubled in the last reporting week, evidence that things are beginning to happen in Southern California,” Johnson said. “We all recognize that whatever happens in Southern California, happens in the Mammoth (and Inyo County) within a few weeks. We are seeing signs that the flu has reached us and is expected to continue to increase over the next few weeks.” 

The CDC also said the influenza-like illness trend suggests that influenza is peaking or waning in some states. However, Johnson said the findings for the last week of 2012 preclude certainty because they can represent an artificial holiday spike. 

“Americans make fewer trips to physician offices in December for routine matters such as check-ups,” Johnson said. “So the patients who do end up in the waiting room “have a different pattern of illness.” As a result, the influenza-like illness rate can swell up.” 

Johnson added that it will take a few more weeks of influenza surveillance and more data points to confirm the trend.

 

Predominant A(H3N2) Virus Associated With More Severe Flu Seasons

Of the influenza viruses in circulation as of Jan. 5, the most common is A(H3N2). Johnson said flu seasons tend to be more severe when this virus predominates, adding that the U.S. has not experienced a major A(H3N2) outbreak since the 2007-08 season, which may explain why this year’s spread is so extensive. 

The once dreaded pandemic influenza A(H1N1) virus from 2009, and a Type B virus, are both circulating in small numbers. All three of the circulating types are included in this year’s vaccine.

“Predicting when, where and how bad a flu season will become is about like predicting earthquakes,” Johnson said. “We know that influenza viruses in a given country, city or region will vary from year to year in unpredictable ways. We just do not know why.” 

Johnson provided the following tips to help keep residents healthy this flu season.

Flu Season is Here – 

Take Action Now

“Do your part to protect yourself and others against the flu,” he said.

Johnson provided the following tips to help keep residents healthy this flu season.

If you have the flu, 

• Stay home

• Follow your health care provider’s recommendations

• Prevent the spread of the flu with these flu-fighting tips.

 

For those who don’t have the flu, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The best protection against the flu is to get the vaccine. Seasonal flu vaccines have a very good safety record. 

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated. It is especially important to get the vaccine if a resident, or someone they live with or care for, is at high risk of complications from the flu. 

For the latest information about this flu season, visit the National Flu Situation homepage, www.vuetoo.com/vue1/SituationPageNews.asp?sit=8188&ref=anm

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