California avoids flu epidemic, but numbers are on the rise
January 19, 2013
An early flu season hitting much of the country has largely avoided California, but an uptick in cases throughout the state has public health officials urging people to get vaccinated against the respiratory infection.Mississippi and California are the only U.S. states with “regional” flu activity rather than the more severe “widespread” activity, according to the latest influenza summary from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Margaret Williams, spokeswoman for El Dorado County’s Health & Human Services Agency, said the county is reporting some flu cases, but not the numbers seen elsewhere.“The number of laboratory confirmed cases of influenza, reported by the two hospitals in El Dorado County so far this season, is comparable to what we saw last year,” Williams said in an email. “We have not received any reports of flu-related outbreaks or deaths in our county this flu season.”The U.S. experienced a milder-than-usual flu season last year and it’s too early to tell if this season’s cases will be among the worst in recent memory.California typically sees an increase in flu cases in late December or early January. The number of cases usually peaks in February or March, according to the Department of Public Health. A steady increase has been reported in recent weeks and one of the prominent flu strains making the rounds this year tends to make people particularly sick.Williams said that there is still time for people to protect themselves against infection with a vaccination.“It is important for everyone to know that it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine, and it is one of the best ways to prevent the flu,” Williams said.South Lake Tahoe resident Loretta Friedel skipped a flu shot last year because of the virus’ relatively moderate activity, but went to the county’s clinic this week because of the media attention the infection has received.“I’m here because of the national information that’s being projected about how significant this flu outbreak is,” Friedel said. “The shot will only give about 62 percent protection, but it’s better than no protection at all.” It can be difficult to tell the difference between the flu and the common cold or a stomach virus. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.High-risk groups such as elderly people, pregnant women, infants, or those with other health conditions who show flu symptoms should contact their doctor immediately. This year’s flu season started about a month earlier than normal and the dominant flu strain is one that tends to make people sicker. Vaccinations are recommended for anyone 6 months or older. There’s still plenty of vaccine — an update shows that 145 million doses have been produced, “twice the supply that was available only several years ago,” Hamburg said.About 24,000 Americans die of the flu each year, according to the CDC.At least 10 Californians have died from the flu this season.• Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Axie Navas and The Associated Press contributed to this story.