A flu outbreak has been officially declared in Fresno County after testing showed rising infection rates.
In addition, one person died from the virus earlier this month. That fatality marks the second death linked to the virus since October, the Fresno County Health Department reported.
Four more people are in intensive care units throughout Fresno County due to the illness, but county health officials say this is still a mild flu season compared to past years.
Leticia Berber, health educator for the county, said the six critical flu patients had a median age of 56. Four are male, and two are female. Four are Hispanic, one is white and one is African-American, she added.
The flu season technically begins in October and ends in May, but Fresno flu activity typically hits its peak in February,” Berber said.
However, infection rates were high enough for Kaiser Permanente Fresno to declare an official outbreak of influenza in Fresno.
Dr. Dee Lacy, an infectious disease physician at Kaiser Permanente Fresno, said Friday that the most recent fatality occurred at the hospital this month.
Lacy said that 1,355 tests were conducted on Northern California Kaiser patients showing flulike symptoms, and 27 percent tested positive for one of the four strains of the virus currently being transmitted. An outbreak is declared if these tests show more than 10 percent infection rates.
Lacy recommended that anyone showing serious flulike symptoms – fever, muscle aches, runny nose, cough – should call their physicians immediately. Their doctors may prescribe anti-viral medication without an official test, a practice recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during times of outbreak.
Vaccinations still are available throughout the area. Lacy said the recent vaccine appears to be a successful one, as evidenced by the lack of serious cases.
These vaccines are created each year by doctors analyzing recent trends, flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere and other factors, Lacy said. That’s why it’s important to get one every year – the flu strains are different each year.
Because four strains of the virus are currently present in Northern California hospitals, Lacy said, it’s possible for someone who has already had the flu to contract it again. Those with a history of flu contraction also are more susceptible.
California Department of Public Health spokesman Corey Egel said that older individuals have an increased risk for serious influenza. One of the strains currently circulating, H1N1, typically has an increased impact on those in their 50s, he added.
To date, 11 patients in California under the age of 65 have died from influenza-related causes this season, Egel said.
The Fresno County Health Department offers free vaccines at its downtown Fresno office at 1221 Fulton Mall.