The influenza virus that is sickening people all across the country is taking a deadly toll in California as the number of fatalities more than doubled in one week.
For the week ending Jan. 11, the California Department of Public Health recorded 38 influenza related deaths, bringing the total for the season to 45. Included in the 38 recent deaths were two pediatric cases.
An additional 50 deaths are under investigation by CDPH.
"Flu activity continues to increase statewide, including reports of hospitalizations, severe disease and the number of deaths," said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the CDPH and state health officer. "We are clearly in the midst of what appears to be an earlier peaking, severe flu season, and I encourage everyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccination to do so. The influenza vaccine remains the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu."
The 45 influenza-associated deaths this season have been reported by the following counties: Alameda (3), Contra Costa (2), Kern (1), Kings (2), Lassen (1), Los Angeles (4), Marin (2), Mendocino (1), Merced (2), Orange (3), Riverside (1), Sacramento (5), San Bernardino (4), San Diego (3), San Francisco (1), San Mateo (2), Santa Barbara (1), Santa Clara (3), Sonoma (1), and Stanislaus (3). The pediatric deaths occurred in Los Angeles and San Mateo counties.
The spread of the flu virus has caused a few local hospitals and clinics to change some of their regular procedures and rules. Emanuel Medical Center is restricting visitors who are younger than 15 years to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The California Depart of Public Health reports that H1N1 appears to be the predominant strain circulating so far in California. The H1N1 virus tends to cause more illnesses in children and young adults that it does in older individuals, though all age groups are susceptible.
The symptoms of H1N1, also called swine flu, are similar to the symptoms of other influenza viruses and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with H1N1.
The 2009 pandemic saw millions of people sickened by the virus worldwide and caused an estimated 150,000 deaths.
People can still receive the flu vaccine to be protected this year. Typically, the flu season peaks in February and March in Stanislaus County and the flu vaccine only takes two weeks to become fully effective. It is particularly important for pregnant women and other people at higher risk for severe influenza to be vaccinated.
There is no shortage of influenza vaccine. At the state level, CDPH still has about 50,000 state-purchased doses that are available to local health departments. There are also more than 290,000 federally purchased Vaccines for Children program doses available to order by local health departments or private providers.
People should check with their primary care provider or local pharmacy for vaccine availability. Vaccinations are also offered at the Stanislaus County Public Health Department for $10 per child (6 months through 18 years) and $25 per adult. Flu vaccines are provided to the public during the hours of 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Public Health building located at 820 Scenic Drive in Modesto. No appointments are necessary.
Dr. Chapman also notes that in addition to getting vaccinated, it's important to practice good hand washing and other good health habits. People who are ill should take actions to stop the spread of germs such as:
• While sick, limit contact with others.
• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Those at highest risk - the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or those with other health conditions - who show flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately in order to get the most effective treatment. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.