Valley hospitals seeing increase in flu cases

The Fresno BeeDecember 17, 2013 

The flu bug could put a damper on holiday celebrations in the Valley this year.

Up to now there have been only a smattering of flu cases in the central San Joaquin Valley, but hospitals are beginning to see an increase in sick children -- a sign the virus is here.

In the past three weeks, Children's Hospital Central California had 10 patients with influenza -- six of whom were seen Monday, said Marsha Meyer, infection prevention manager. "The numbers have started to creep up."

Schools also are seeing a slight increase in children with the flu.

Fresno Unified School District had 12 children with flu-like symptoms -- cough, sore throat, fever -- on Monday and Tuesday. For the previous school week, 22 children had symptoms and were sent home, said district spokeswoman Susan Bedi.

Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California could see threshold levels of influenza -- 10% of people testing positive for the virus -- by next week, said Dr. Dee Lacy, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser-Fresno.

Last week, 7% of people tested had the virus, Lacy said. And 20% of school-age children who were tested had the flu.

With schools in the Valley going on winter break beginning next week, the virus will have plenty of chances to spread at family get-togethers, she said.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health also monitors flu activity. While flu season started in September, there were few cases until this past week when flu accounted for 1.5% of hospital admissions. A 2% level is considered base line for high flu-activity.

"Traditionally in our county and our region we see the flu season start to peak the first week of January and the second week of January," said Joe Prado, division manager for community health.

It's too soon to know when this season will peak, but Prado said people traveling over the winter break should expect flu activity to be hitting its stride on the East Coast. The flu bug typically spreads from the East Coast to the West.

There's still time to get a flu shot, Prado said. The health department has vaccine, but people should check first with their doctor about getting a flu shot, he said. Pharmacies also offer flu shots.

People can lower the chance of spreading the virus to their family and friends by covering their mouths when they cough, washing hands with soap and water, throwing away tissues after one sneeze and staying home when they're sick.

For more information about flu shots:

Fresno County: (559) 600-3550.

Kings County: (800) 649-5399.

Madera County: (559) 675-7893.

Tulare County: (559) 685-5725.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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