Health

Flu Deaths Increase, Activity Remains High in San Diego

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Flu-related deaths and emergency department visits for flu symptoms rose in San Diego County last week, but lab-confirmed flu cases declined for the third week in a row, the County Health and Human Services Agency announced today.

An additional 32 flu deaths were reported last week, bringing the season total to 174. Twenty of these deaths were of people under 65 years old, which are the only deaths public health agencies are required to report in California. The County informs the public about all flu deaths. The high number of deaths reported this year is due in part to better testing, surveillance and reporting systems.

Emergency department visits by people with influenza-like illness increased last week from 7 percent of all visits to 9 percent, though the number of lab-confirmed cases dropped to 1,183 from 2,170 the previous week.

“Health care providers may diagnose and treat people for influenza without testing when flu activity is high,” said Wilma Wooten M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “San Diego is experiencing the same severe flu conditions that are being seen across the country.”

Wooten noted that although the flu season arrived earlier than usual this year, anyone who has not yet been vaccinated should do so now.

“The flu season typically lasts through the end of March and early April. It is not too late to get vaccinated,” Wooten added.

For the week ending Jan. 20, 2018, the County Health and Human Services Agency is reporting the following:

  • Emergency department visits for influenza-like illness: 9 percent of all visits (compared to 7 percent the previous week)
  • Lab-confirmed influenza cases for the week: 1,183 (compared to 2,170 the previous week)
  • Total influenza deaths to date: 174 (compared to 21 at this time last season)
  • Total lab-confirmed cases to date: 13,712 (compared to 2,110 last season)

It’s Not Too Late for a Flu Shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and effective. It takes two weeks for immunity to develop.

The CDC also recommends that people should prevent the spread of germs and take antivirals when prescribed by a doctor. Some local pharmacies may be out of specific medications, but there is no national shortage of antivirals. Sick people should call around if their local pharmacy is out and send a family member to pick up the medications to avoid exposing others to the virus.

Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications from influenza. They include:

  • People with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and lung disease, even if symptoms are under control
  • Pregnant women
  • People 65 years and older
  • People who live with or care for others who are at higher risk

In addition to getting vaccinated, people should also do the following to avoid getting sick:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Use hand sanitizers
  • Stay away from sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others

The flu vaccine is available at doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies. If you don’t have medical insurance, you can go to a County public health center to get vaccinated. For a list of locations, visit www.sdiz.org or call 2-1-1.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact