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With influenza cases on the rise, officials encourage vaccinations

Posted: Friday, Jan 10th, 2014

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — California Public Health officials are warning state residents to protect themselves from influenza, which is suspected in several deaths statewide.

State Department of Public Health Director Ron Chapman said the current increase in flu activity in California is not an unexpected increase, but added that it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

“It’s not too late to vaccinate,” said Santa Cruz County Health officer Lisa Hernandez.

Even people who have already had influenza are encouraged to get vaccinated, since the current batch contains three separate strains, she added.

Hernandez said health providers are seeing more severe cases this year, many of which have been linked to the pandemic H1N1 strain that made its first appearance in 2009.

In Santa Cruz County, eight severe cases have been diagnosed, six of which were admitted to hospital intensive care units and two of which resulted in death.

Of these, all were under 65, and the two people who died were under 50, Hernandez said.

“California is seeing an accelerated increase in flu activity over the past few weeks,” said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health. “You can help prevent further spread of the flu by getting a flu shot.”

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness and death.

According to Chapman, California normally sees an increase in cases in late December or early January. The cases usually peak in February or March.

Officials have linked influenza to seven deaths of people under 65, three from the Bay Area.

Twenty-eight more deaths are currently under investigation.

The H1N1 strain appears to be the predominant strain so far this flu season and is contained in the current flu vaccine.

“The best defense against the flu is getting vaccinated,” Chapman said. “This year’s vaccine is an excellent match against this year’s influenza strains. There is no shortage of vaccine in California and it is not too late to get vaccinated. Our flu season may not peak for several more weeks, so I encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect not only themselves, but those with whom they come into contact.”

Vaccination is recommended for everyone over six months old, but is particularly important for those persons at higher risk of severe influenza, such as pregnant women, people considered obese and who have other certain medical conditions.

Anyone with the illness should stay home, get rest and call their health care provider if the symptoms persist, Hernandez said.

Other practices that can help limit the spread of influenza:

• While sick, limit contact with others

• Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing

• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based rub

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

Those at highest risk — the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or those with other health conditions who show flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately, the California Department of Public Health said.

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

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