With the death of two women in Stanislaus County attributed to influenza and the ranks of the sickened increasing, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is actively encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“We are seeing a late flu season this year,” said Public Health Officer Dr. John Walker. “It has not peaked and the flu season is likely to last until April. The best prevention method is to get a flu shot.”
The California Department of Public Health said the current flu activity in California is “regional,” which is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having “outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness and recent laboratory confirmed influenza in at least two but less than half the regions of the state.”
The deaths recorded in Stanislaus County were of two 53-year-old women, who died within days of one another in mid-February. One woman was confirmed to have the H1N1 virus and the other had influenza A. Both had underlying health conditions, according to the health services agency.
The health services agency said there are three strains of influenza circulating this year. The levels of the different strains are about the same, as opposed to 2009 and 2010 when the newly identified H1N1 strain claimed thousands of lives and sickened multitudes across the country.
Flu activity typically increases in the first three months of each year. Every year, more than 225,000 people are hospitalized and more than 35,000 die in the United States due to the flu and its complications, according to the state health department.
The very young and the elderly, as well as pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are more susceptible to suffering complications and/or death from influenza.
“Flu has the potential to cause serious illness and even death,” said CDPH Director Dr. Mark Horton. “But there is something people can do about it. I urge all Californians to get a flu shot and take other preventive measures to reduce exposure to influenza.”
The current seasonal vaccine includes coverage for the novel H1N1 virus as well as two other influenza viruses, and thereby becomes a booster dose for anyone who received the H1N1 vaccine last year, Walker said.
The health services agency recommends the flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older. The vaccine is available from primary care physicians’ offices, many local pharmacies and the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, Public Health at 820 Scenic Dr., in Modesto.
No appointments are necessary at Public Health. The hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Fridays. Flu shots at Public Health are offered at an administrative cost of $10 per child (6 months through 18 years) and $20 per adult (19 years and older). Payment may be made in cash or check, and can be covered by straight Medicare Part B. Individuals covered under a Medicare Advantage Plan (i.e. Kaiser, Secure Horizons, Health Net, Sutter Gould, etc.) should receive vaccinations from their health care provider.
To stop the spread of flu and other respiratory illnesses, the public should:
• Stay home when sick to avoid infecting others.
• Cover your cough or sneeze using your elbow or a tissue and properly disposing of the used tissue.
• Wash hands thoroughly using soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with hands that are not clean.
• Stay healthy. Everyone benefits from eating a nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water, not smoking, and getting adequate rest and exercise.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.