Health authorities in California are worried that the 2016-2017 flu season will be much more severe than last year. So far this season, 14 people under age 65 have died from the flu in the state, while only three deaths were reported by this time a year ago.
On Friday, the flu claimed the life of a child for the first time this season, according to state health authorities.
“This is a tragic reminder that the flu is a serious illness for people of all ages and kills thousands of Americans each year,” said California Public Health Department head Dr. Karen Smith, per an LA Times report.
The number of flu deaths in California may actually be higher than reported. Only flu-related deaths of people younger than 65-years old are reported to the state and many deaths cannot be directly attributable to the illness.
Except for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, more people are visiting the hospital for flu-related symptoms this year than in the past decade. There have been 83 flu outbreaks in California since the 2016-2017 season began; this is twice as many as previous years. These are clear signals that the flu season is much more severe than usual.
“We have lots of people getting the flu, and it’s causing a lot of hospitalizations. That’s notable,” said Dr. James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control at the California Department of Public Health, as cited by SFGate.
Every year, flu season starts in October and ends around May the following year. During most seasons, the number of flu cases peak sometime around February. However, the high number of reported cases has experts predicting the peak is already here this season.
During an average flu season, roughly 20 to 30 percent of the people experiencing symptoms of influenza test positive for the infection. However, since the start of January, approximately 39 percent of patients have tested positive.
Health officials still have not figured out why the 2016-2017 flu season is worse than normal. Most likely, it has to do with the specific strain of flu circulating this year.
Known as influenza A, subtype H3N2, this strain produces much more serious symptoms and is especially dangerous to the elderly. While this year’s flu season may be particularly more severe, the most recently available flu vaccine is expected to work effectively against the virus strain.
“It’s still not too late to get the influenza vaccine … but the time to do it is today,” said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as reported by the LA Times. “We anticipate there will be good efficacy this year.”
Schwartz advises everyone over 6-months-old get a flu shot. To keep the virus from spreading to others, even young and healthy individuals should stop at a pharmacy or make a doctor’s appointment to be vaccinated.
In addition to getting a flu shot, health experts recommend other simple ways to fight influenza. Some commonsense actions to keep from becoming a victim of the 2016-2017 flu season include staying home from school or work when sick, washing hands with soap and water as well as avoiding others who are sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, and headaches. In general, someone infected with the flu virus recovers in a few days, but symptoms could last as long as two weeks. However, if left untreated, more serious health complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis could develop.
Now that the 2016-2017 flu season is in full swing, health experts in California and nationwide expect to see an upsurge in hospitalizations related to influenza. Anyone is susceptible to contracting the flu, even healthy people. However, older adults, children, and anyone with certain health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are especially vulnerable.
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