It’s looking a lot like flu season could be heading to the Valley for the holidays

What would the holidays be without … influenza?

It has been a relatively flu-free fall so far, but it’s beginning to look like flu season at hospitals in the central San Joaquin Valley.

For the past two weeks, hospitals have reported an increase in influenza, particularly in children.

Kaiser Permanente reported 10 percent of influenza samples tested positive last week for the flu. That’s up from 7 percent positive results just two weeks prior. And Fresno leads the health system’s Northern California region with 23.3 percent of 43 tests positive for influenza.“It is going up, but it’s creeping up,” said Dr. Dee Lacy, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Fresno.

Most of the patients tested for influenza have had an H1N1 influenza A strain, she said.

Most of the ill have been children ages 5 to 11.

Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera County is seeing a few more influenza patients with high fever, coughs and runny noses, said Dr. Geetanjali Srivastava, medical director of the emergency department. But it’s only a slight uptick in flu cases, so far.

There’s time to get a flu shot (which takes two weeks to give a good immune response) to avoid getting flu as a holiday present, Lacy said.

Fresno County is having a flu-shot clinic from 9 a.m. to noon on Dec. 8 at the American Legion Hall, 3509 N. First St., in Fresno. Another clinic will be from 1-3 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Cherry Auction, 4640 S. Cherry Ave. near Easton.

Nasal vaccine approved

Lacy said the federal government has given the go-ahead this year for a nasal vaccine for those who are ages 2 to 49 with no underlying medical conditions, such as asthma. The nasal vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, who the federal government recommends get a flu shot.

Vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu, but people who come down with influenza can get some relief from Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, if they get to a doctor within the first 48 hours of the start of symptoms.

And there’s a new antiviral pill, Xofluza, which was approved Oct. 24 by the federal Food and Drug Administration. That medication is only recommended for people who are older than 12 and younger than 65 (and who have no underlying health problems), Lacy said. Kaiser is still studying Xofluza this year, she said.

Slow start appreciated

Nurses and doctors are relieved that the 2018-19 flu season has started slowly compared to last year, which saw feverish influenza patients fill doctor offices, urgent care centers and hospital emergency departments

Nationwide the 2017-18 flu season was one of the most severe on record. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 48.8 million people got sick with the flu; 22.7 million were so ill that they sought medical care; 959,000 were hospitalized; and 79,400 died from influenza. It was the worst flu season since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, when an estimated 60 million people were sick with influenza, the CDC said.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health keeps track of flu-related hospitalizations. Last year, there were eight hospitalizations and seven deaths from influenza, said Leticia Berber, county health educator. So far this year, no one has been hospitalized in the county, and there has not been an influenza death, Berber said.

All is calm – for the time being. But it’s too early in the flu season to predict how severe it will be.

“We never know what we’re going to be hit with until we’re right in the middle of flu season … about the middle of December through the end of January,” Berber said. “That’s when we start to see cases.”