Early flu season spares Southern California ... for now

Lance McCord/Flickr Creative Commons

A woman gets a flu shot during the 2011-2012 season. This flu season has started early in some states, but not in Southern California.

National health officials say the flu season has kicked off sooner than in years past — the earliest start in nearly a decade. A few states, particularly in the South, have seen a jump in cases.

What's the Southland's prognosis?

Kalvin Yu, chief of the infectious diseases department for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, says that unlike Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and some other places, the flu has spared us ... so far.

“What we’re seeing mostly circulating in Southern California is rhinovirus or enterovirus," Yu says. "So cold-like viruses that some people may mistakenly feel like it’s the flu.”

Yu says another common infection in the Southland right now is RSV — Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Many parents are familiar with that one. It causes cold-like symptoms and can lead to more drastic sickness in young children.

“And that typically increases in its occurrence rate before influenza does in Southern California Kaiser," Yu says. "So the fact that it’s rising right now means that we can expect flu season to officially get started sometime within the next month or two.”  

Kaiser Permanente serves more than 3.5 million Southern Californians. Its doctors send flu data to the local, county and state public health officials.

Yu says if you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, do it now. But don't think the flu vaccine is a cure-all that knocks the flu down completely.

It isn't and it doesn't. But it will help immensely.

“The symptoms that you feel could be what we term ‘subclinical,'" Yu said. "You could be exposed to the flu, but because of the vaccine, you’re not going to feel the flu symptoms. Or if you do feel flu symptoms, it’s probably because you would’ve gotten even more severe symptoms without the flu vaccine.”

It takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to kick in. That's just in time for Christmas if you make that flu shot a priority this week.

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