Valley flu season winding down? Maybe

The Fresno BeeFebruary 15, 2014 

An injection of the influenza virus vaccine is prepared at the Fresno County Department of Health's immunization clinic on the Fulton Mall Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 in Fresno.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

In a flu season that has already claimed three dozen victims in the central San Joaquin Valley but is only about halfway through, health officials had some good news Friday -- the number of deaths appears to be decreasing.

"There's no indication that there will be a severe spike in cases like we've seen in the first half of the flu season," said Joe Prado, manager of community health at the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

Prado's assessment was echoed by Dr. Ron Chapman, the state's medical chief. "The downward trend in the number of influenza cases is a good sign," he said.

But Chapman said in a statement that flu season is far from over. And the number of flu-related deaths continue to rise.

Statewide, 243 deaths have been confirmed and an additional 41 deaths are under investigation, he said. The state collects death reports from counties, which receive notice from hospitals of influenza deaths of children and adults younger than 65. Nationwide, only children's flu deaths are reported.

The state and Valley's influenza death toll likely is much higher than what has been reported: Deaths of the elderly, who are at added risk from the flu, are not tracked.

Health officials say this has been a brutal flu season. Last year at this time, the state had 26 influenza deaths, and in all of the 2012-13 season there were 106 deaths reported.

Fresno County officials have called this the deadliest season in the five years since California began collecting reports of flu deaths of adults, along with children.

And on Friday, Prado said concern remains. "We'll continue to do our flu surveillance," he said.

H1N1 -- the same strain as the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic that spread worldwide -- has been associated with most of the deaths. The virus is a ferocious combination of avian, human and swine viruses, and was dubbed "swine flu" when it was first detected.

Since late December, Fresno County has had 22 flu deaths -- all adults. The latest death, a woman in her 40s, was reported Wednesday. Kings and Merced counties reported a death each on Thursday, bringing the total to five each. Madera and Tulare counties have had two each.

Most of the flu victims in the Valley had medical problems that put them at higher risk for complications from the flu -- 19 of Fresno County's victims had underlying health conditions. Risk factors include obesity, smoking, asthma, heart conditions and weakened immune systems. Pregnant women, infants and the elderly also are at greater risk of death.

But this flu season has struck a wide age range, with deaths reported in people in their 20s through their 60s. Fresno County's 18th death, reported on Feb. 10, was a man in his 20s who had health problems. But a death reported three days earlier was a man in his 40s with no medical problems.

Chapman on Friday urged Californians who haven't gotten flu shots to get them. "Vaccination is still the best way to prevent illness and spread of illness," he said.

The flu virus can circulate until May in California and this season has been severe.

People at high risk of complications from the flu should contact their doctors immediately if they show flu symptoms, he said. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

 


 

Fresno County Flu Deaths - from Jan. 2

  • # 1 - Female, 40s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 2 - Male, early 60s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 3 - Male, 50s, underlying medical conditions, Influenza A (no subtype available), flu vaccination history not available
  • # 4 - Female, 50s, underlying medical conditions, Influenza A (no subtype available), flu vaccination history not available
  • # 5 - Male, 50s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 6 - Male, 40s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 7 - Male, 50s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 8 - Female, 30s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 9 - Female, 30s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 10 - Male, early 60s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 11 - Female, 50s, underlying medical conditions, Influenza A H3, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 12 - Male, early 60s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 13 - Female, 40s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 14 - Male, 50s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 15 - Female, early 60s, underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available
  • # 16 - Female, early 60s, underlying medical conditions, Influenza A (no subtype available), flu vaccination history not available
  • # 17 - Male, 40s, no underlying medical conditions, H1N1, flu vaccination history not available

Flu shots information

  • Everyone over the age of 6 months is recommended to get a flu shot.
  • Vaccination of high-risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
  • People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.
  • Vaccination also is important for health-care workers and other people who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to high-risk people.
  • Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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

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