Orange County sees 'dramatic' increase in flu cases; LA and Riverside report average level of infections (clinic map)

Lance McCord/Flickr Creative Commons

A woman gets a flu shot during the 2011-2012 season. The virus' activity in L.A. and O.C. counties is ramping up, and one expert says the southland is still weeks away from this season's peak.

Orange County officials are concerned by a growing number of severe flu cases. Already two people have died.

“Certainly in Orange County in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the levels of influenza A and influenza B from providers in our community,” said Matt Zahn, Orange County’s medical director for epidemiology.

Zahn initially said he wasn’t concerned about supply of the flu vaccine. He later called back to say he just got word that the country’s largest vaccine manufacturer was sold out.
 
The French company Sanofi Pasteur reports that most — but not all — of its seasonal flu vaccine is depleted because of unanticipated late-season demand.
 
Fortunately, Zahn says local providers already purchased ample supply. And for anyone who still hasn’t gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late.
 
“The season will last for several more weeks so for several more weeks being protected is a worthwhile thing,” Zahn said. "But being that we are in flu season already, you don’t want to wait."

Los Angeles county's top health official agrees.

“In the last couple of weeks we are seeing a definite increase, a substantial increase, in influenza," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the director of Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health. "And we expect that will continue, and it's probably not going to peak for a number of weeks. So it is still time for people to go and get immunized against the flu – if they haven't, it's a very good idea to do that.”

And there's plenty of vaccine, Fielding said. Even better, this year's batch is well-matched to the predominant strain of flu. Although L.A. is weeks into flu season, the peak is still weeks away, so there's still time to take preventive measures. (Story continues below map.)

"It is still worth it to get vaccinated," said Fielding. "It takes 10 days to two weeks for your immunity to develop after the shot and, while the vaccine isn't perfect, it's the best way we have to prevent you from getting flu or prevent you from having a very severe case."

While plenty of other areas in the U.S. are experiencing a flu season that's worse than usual, Fielding said what L.A. County is experiencing is nothing unusual.

"What we're seeing is more flu than we've had last year about this time, and probably less than we had the year before that, so I would say to this point it's roughly an average flu season," he said. "But remember that flu can really lay you low, and for some people it can be serious and even life-threatening."

The latest flu data available from the county shows that there haven't been any flu-related deaths in L.A. yet this season, but Fielding reminds Angelenos that it's still early – and that even an average flu season can infect up to 10 percent of the population.

"It's very important that people who have flu-like symptoms stay home, or if their child has them not to go to work," he said. "You're contagious for the flu about one day before you have symptoms – you can't do anything about that – until five to seven days afterward." That means you should definitely skip work, and try and avoid close contact with people whenever possible.

Meanwhile, Riverside's health department is reporting an average number of flu cases for this time of year.

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