If you’re feeling bugged by the flu, take heart: you’re not alone.
The California Department of Public Health is reporting higher-than-usual hospitalizations and outpatient visits by California residents derailed by the flu bug in January.
So far, state health officials report that nine California residents under the age of 65 are confirmed to have died from flu-related illnesses.
In Los Angeles County, the department of public health is reporting that the flu has killed four residents, all of whom were 65 years and older. Other counties in the region have also reported deaths: Orange County reported four deaths as of January 25, the Orange County Register reported.
“We always knew this year would be a more severe flu season because the last two years were actually very benign in terms of how much flu was circulating,” says Dr. Kalvin Yu, regional chief of infectious diseases for Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
He says the uptick in flu cases has been felt throughout Kaiser’s 14 southland medical centers. Since mid-January, each week has seen an increase in flu cases, about one and a half times above the prior week.
Yu says that every flu season plays host to as many as five different influenza viruses. So if one doesn’t get you, it’s likely another will.
Your best protection? Get a flu shot, he says.
And for those who think it’s too late: “It’s definitely not too late,” he says. “It’s still on the rise and hasn’t peaked, so that means that people who haven’t had a vaccination still can use this as an opportunity to get vaccinated to protect themselves.”
Health officials encourage all Californians – from six months of age and up – to get a flu shot if they haven’t yet. And that, says Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Kalvin Yu, includes the naysayers – those who, because they got sick with the flu after they got a flu shot, now believe that the vaccinations don’t really work.
“One thing I’d like to dispel in terms of myths is that the vaccine never is never 100 percent protective,” Yu says. “What the flu vaccine actually does is it it helps mitigate and decrease the symptoms of the flu, if one should catch it that year.”
More importantly, he says, flu shots help decrease the likelihood of contracting flu pneumonia, which is what causes most flu deaths nationwide.
But no matter your position on flu vaccines, Yu says, you can at the very least practice proper hygiene during flu season. That goes a long way in stopping the spread of germs.
So, remember your mother’s advice and wash your hands, especially before touching your eyes or mouth. And always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, preferably with a tissue.
Lacking that, it’s safer to others if you sneeze or cough into your upper arm rather than into your hand in order to prevent the spread of germs, Yu says.