Worst Flu Season in Years Wanes Despite Sharply Colder Weather

Published : Wednesday, February 28, 2018 | 6:37 AM

Flu Shot

Despite a flu season which both national and California health authorities say is the worst in several years, Pasadena endured relatively unscathed, local health officials confirmed.

Pasadena has not recorded any influenza-related deaths of persons under the age of 65 so far this season, officials reported.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has reported 158 confirmed deaths associated with the flu in the county during this flu season. In a press release earlier this month, the Public Health Department said the influenza activity is expected to remain elevated for several weeks to come. Influenza A (H3N2) viruses are the most common this season; this type, the Public Health Department said, tends to be more severe.

Last year, the county recorded a total of 80 confirmed influenza-associated deaths during the flu season. Nearly 85 percent of deaths have occurred in adults over 65 years old, and one death occurred in a child under 18.

The California Department of Health said in a weekly announcement that, “This season’s preliminary flu vaccine efficacy estimates are 42% for influenza B, 25% for A (H3N2), and 67% for A (H1N1). However, they continue, “Based on these estimates, flu vaccination will still prevent a substantial amount of illness.”

As the flu season continues, Pasadena Public Health Director Michael Johnson said his office continues to be vigilant and consistently communicates with local health providers to monitor flu related illnesses and symptoms. He also reported that Pasadena has had some flu related deaths of persons over 65, but he wasn’t able to confirm how many as the date is not in yet.

“The Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD) has continued to provide education on flu and has continued to promote flu vaccine as an important mechanism to prevent the flu, including added clinics to provide vaccine,” Johnson said. “Additionally, the Health Officer issued an order requiring medical staffing in clinics and hospitals in the city to receive the flu vaccine or surgical masking is required to work during flu season.”

The Pasadena Public Health Department also continues to work with the Pasadena Unified School District to further educate students as well as parents.

“We are in regular contact with PUSD, and will support their efforts in what they may need.” Johnson said. “We have also conducted some emergency preparedness exercises with points of dispensing for flu vaccine for staff and youth.”

Johnson adds the department is preparing to publish the results of monitoring for the 2017-2018 season.

“To date, Pasadena has not had any reported cases of flu related death in persons under the age of 65,” Johnson said in an email. “However, every year individuals over this age die of flu in Pasadena and across the country. We monitor deaths due to flu and pneumonia for all ages.”

Johnson also stressed that Pasadena residents should make sure anyone in the family who’s six months of age and older are vaccinated every year against the flu.

“Flu vaccination is especially important for people who are at greater risk for complications from flu and those who live with or care for these individuals,” Johnson said. “Groups of people that are at high risk for flu complications include children younger than five years, adults 65 years and older, and pregnant women. Medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes and being overweight (with a body-mass index of over 40) can also increase your risk for flu complications.”

Johnson stressed that most people are able to recover from the flu with rest and fluids. He also advised anyone with suspicious symptoms to call their doctor’s or nurse’s hotline, instead of visiting an emergency department, where wait times may be long.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, symptoms of the flu could include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu. Flu can also aggravate underlying health conditions like heart disease or asthma.

“People at greater risk for complications from the flu should seek medical care as soon as they begin to feel ill, whether or not they have been vaccinated,” Johnson said.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, Johnson stressed that practicing good hygiene can help prevent getting and spreading the flu. This includes washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and staying home if you’re sick.

The Pasadena Public Health Department provides free flu vaccination at its Immunization Clinic at the main health facility at 1845 N. Fair Oaks Avenue. The vaccine is free of charge while supplies last, Johnson said.

“We have lots of flu vaccine and protection can still be achieved if they get it soon,” he adds.

In a press release The California Department of Public Health said they cannot measure total numbers of influenza cases because not everyone is tested, but added they’ve seen indicators of a decline in the number of cases compared to a few weeks ago.

“These include emergency department visits from people complaining of influenza like illness, and the percentage of respiratory specimens that are positive for influenza,” the press release said. “It is too early to say that we have ‘peaked,’ as influenza is complicated and multiple strains can be circulating in a community. Later in the season it is not uncommon to see a shift from influenza A to influenza B and so we could see numbers increase. This also means that it is not too late to get a flu vaccine.”

The department also stressed that since they’ve determined the flu is much more serious among the elderly, It is important for people who are elderly and have signs and symptoms of influenza to call their doctor as soon as possible even if they have been vaccinated.

This year, the median age of patients who have died of influenza is 81 years, the department said.

As far as PUSD students are concerned, the District has circulated a Flu Guidelines letter throughout all its schools since January, says PUSD spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez Horvath, who adds PUSD has not experienced a higher-than-normal absence rate due to flu.

“PUSD is working with City and County Public Health to safeguard students against the flu, by providing free flu vaccine clinics for students, staff and parents held at schools in partnership with Pasadena Public Health and LA County Department of Public Health, and free flu vaccines for all Medi-Cal eligible students,” Horvath said. “PUSD also hosts Huntington Memorial Hospital at select schools to offer free flu shots.”

Authorities at Huntington Memorial Hospital have instituted measures to prevent the spread of the flu, including asking visitors who have symptoms not to enter the hospital. Patients confined there are also advised to have no more than two visitors at a time, and that visitors should be 15 years old or older.

Dorey Huston, Public Relations Consultant for Huntington Hospital, said they’ve had long waits at the emergency room due to a significant increase in patients seeking relief from flu symptoms.

“Many of those patients tested positive for the flu virus and were given an antiviral medication as a course of treatment,” Huston said. “Like many hospitals during this flu season, our emergency room experienced especially long waits, but we haven’t had to set-up a surge tent and have been able to maintain an adequate supply of antiviral and other medicines on hand to help treat the flu.”

Huston also advised anyone who has not been vaccinated to get a flu shot as soon as possible.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent getting the flu and protect those around you. Other precautions include washing your hands often with soap and water; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and avoiding contact with sick people.”

The California Department of Public Health said in an announcement that “Several more weeks of flu activity are expected.”

To find vaccine locations near you, visit www.vaccinefinder.org.

blog comments powered by Disqus