FLU VACCINEFlu activity high in 15 states, H1N1 dominates again.  Time to hunker down!!

The new flu season is dramatically ramping up across the U.S. with growing reports of illness. The focus has been on the south, especially Texas, but California is beginning to show signs of catching up. While we have not reached the high levels being seen in some parts of the country, more cases are being reported compared to the same time last year. This is true for the Eastern Sierra as well as for the rest of the state. Neighboring Nevada already has high activity levels, and we will be sure to follow suit in the next few weeks. It appears that influenza activity is rising faster and may peak sooner than it did last year (mid-February).

For the first time since the 2009 influenza pandemic, H1N1 is the dominant circulating flu strain early in the season. Fortunately, this strain is covered by this years’ vaccine.

While most flu strains predominantly sicken the elderly and those with existing health problems, the H1N1 strain mostly sickens younger adults ages 18 to 49, and middle-aged adults 49 to 64. We have received reports of serious outcomes in young and middle-aged adults, including hospitalization, the need for intensive care, and death. Most persons hospitalized with influenza-related illness thus far have been under the age of 65. The death of a 61 year old was reported today in Sacramento.  Thus far, Eastern Sierra hospitals have not reported any hospitalizations or deaths related to the flu.

Of note is the striking absence of other more typical early warning signals of influenza circulation such as school or long-term care facility (LTCF) outbreaks for which clustered activity is more readily recognized and reported. Given the greater antibody protection identified in school children and the elderly, it could be speculated that H1N1 strain being seen is spreading “under the radar” through adult contact networks without the usual school or LTCF outbreaks as expected. It will be interesting to see what happens when school reopens after the 2 week holiday break.

It must be kept in mind that no age group can be considered exempt from H1N1 risk. There is still the individual risk of serious outcomes if infected, regardless of age. Our intention is to reinforce protective measures for young and middle-aged adults as well as for the elderly and pre-school children who are traditionally thought of as being at high risk.

So far, there have been no significant changes in the H1N1 flu viruses to suggest they’re spreading more easily or have become more virulent, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring for signs of any change in the virus.

We recommend that everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot each year. A flu shot is still the best way to avoid illness. It is not too late, and vaccine is available through your healthcare provider, pharmacy, or health department.

Flu vaccinations kept nearly 80,000 people out of the hospital last year and prevented 6.6 million cases of the flu. On average, 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu each season — ranging from 158,000 people hospitalized in 1990-1991 to 431,000 in 1997-1998. Flu vaccine also may prevent other conditions, such as heart disease. For a compelling video, watch: http://www.cdc.gov/cdctv/PersonalFluStories/index.html?s_cid=ctv_hndtog

The flu can quickly strike with symptoms that may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, are not a major part of the picture.  The “flu” is a respiratory illness, typically lasts two to seven days, and will usually put you to bed for at least a few days, if not a week. Unfortunately, you can spread your infection for 24 hours BEFORE you actually get sick.

Public Health recommends that if you become ill, take steps to halt the spread of germs:

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with your sleeve or elbow.

• Wash your hands with soap and water.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

And, most of all

–       Stay safe

–       Stay well

Have a Happy New Year!

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