State health official declares the flu ‘widespread’ in California

ccraft@sacbee.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Sacramento County health officials urge residents to get a flu vaccine; they recommend one vaccine per season. Bee file photo.

RANDY PENCH — rpench@sacbee.com

California’s public health director declared Friday that the flu has gained ground throughout the state and is now considered widespread. Seven influenza deaths have been reported statewide – with five occurring in Sacramento County this week alone.

It was unclear why Sacramento County appeared to be bearing an outsized burden of flu deaths, or if the numbers signaled a significant trend or a statistical quirk.

Another 28 deaths throughout California are being investigated, said state Public Health Director Dr. Ron Chapman. “Influenza activity in California is beginning to show a steady increase and is now considered to be widespread,” Chapman said. “Currently, there are more hospitalizations at this point than expected, based on historical trends.”

The number of people admitted to hospital intensive care units with flu-like symptoms in Sacramento County ballooned from 10 a week ago to 37 on Friday, said county Department of Public Health spokeswoman Laura McCasland.

All five fatalities involved the influenza A strain H1N1, which Chapman and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified as the predominant flu virus spreading throughout California and the nation.

McCasland said Friday the latest flu death in Sacramento County was that of a 53-year-old man who had not been hospitalized. It was unknown whether he had any other medical conditions making him vulnerable to the flu – or whether he’d had a flu shot, which is recommended but not always 100 percent effective. McCasland said the county’s Public Health Department attempts to determine whether a victim has been vaccinated, but the information can be difficult to obtain.

The H1N1 flu virus is also known as pH1N1 or H1N1 2009, because it is a version of the virus that caused a pandemic in 2009. All five Sacramento County people who died in the past week tested positive for H1N1, which the CDC said can tend to strike otherwise healthy young adults or middle-aged people. The other fatalities were ages 37, 46, 56 and 61.

Of the victims, McCasland said that “not all of them have had underlying medical conditions.” Conditions rendering adults more vulnerable to the flu include obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and asthma; children with asthma, obesity, neurological disorders and chronic lung disease and heart disease are more at risk for complications from the flu.

County health officials urge residents 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine; they recommend one vaccine per season. A retail outlet offering flu shots can be found through the website flushot.healthmap.org .

It is typical for the flu to surge in January and February, officials say. Generally, the flu hits children younger than 5 and adults over 65 the hardest. This season, however, people ages 18 to 64 years account for 61 percent of reported hospitalized cases nationwide, the CDC reported. Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, respiratory problems, fatigue and a sore throat.

Chapman noted that the 2013-2014 flu season’s vaccines all contain ingredients to attack the H1N1 virus. “This year’s vaccine is an excellent match against this year’s influenza strains,” he said. “There is no shortage of vaccine in California and it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Our flu season may not peak for several more weeks.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration, however, did report a shortage this week of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu’s oral suspension medicine. Tamiflu, or oseltamivir phosphate, is one of the prescription anti-viral medications administered to people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms. The manufacturer Genentech reported the reason for the shortage is a “demand increase for the drug,” and that shortages will last through mid-January.

Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.

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