The number of confirmed flu-related deaths in California has risen to 147 this season, with 12 of them in Stanislaus County, according to state and local figures.
The dozen local deaths, according to John Walker, public health officer with the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, range in age from 22 to 64, with a mean in the 50s. Half were male and half were female, he said.
Statewide, four of the deaths involved children. There are an additional 44 deaths being eyed as possibly flu-related, according to a news release from the California Department of Public Health.
This influenza season continues to be a severe one, as the increasing number of influenza-related deaths indicates, said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the state health agency, in a news release. Once again, I urge all Californians to get vaccinated, because it is the best defense against influenza.
Los Angeles County has been the hardest hit, with 17 deaths; followed by Sacramento, 15; San Bernardino, 13; and Stanislaus, 12. Merced County has had three flu deaths.
The total deaths reported for the 2012-13 influenza season was 106.
There is no vaccine shortage, said Walker, who also is urging people to get vaccinated.
Walker answered some common question about the flu.
Q: How bad is the flu season this year?
A: It is a bad flu season. As of Friday, there had been 147 deaths within the state, with more than 50 occurring last week. Only influenza deaths of people 64 and younger are reported. That is because influenza in people 65 and older is relatively common.
Q: Whats unusual about the virus this year?
A: This is the H1N1 virus, which we thought would have been gone by this year. The pandemic was almost five years ago. This is not a recurrence of the pandemic. It will not result in a pandemic.
My strong suspicion is that the reason why we have such a sharp influenza season this year is because we had unusually low vaccination rates for the last two seasons. Vaccination provides immunity for only six months.
Just because they did not become ill during the pandemic does not mean they are protected. Its not too late to get vaccinated. We are still early in the flu season for the Central Valley.
Q: Whats the difference between the flu and a cold?
A: The flu is a more serious ailment and tends to be accompanied by fever, body aches, and weakness and fatigue, and is complicated by pneumonia. In at-risk persons, most influenza deaths are related to pneumonia.
Q: Who should or should not get the flu shot?
A: Everyone should get the flu shot unless they have a known egg allergy. The highest-risk groups are children less than 18 months; pregnant women; and persons with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease and a variety of chronic disorders, including those who have immune disorders. H1N1 is covered in this years vaccine.
Q: If the flu shot safe?
Q: How does it work?
A: There are two kinds. Theres one thats injected, and a nasal vaccine. It works well, and it stimulates antibody formation.
Q: What can you do to minimize the damage of the flu to yourself and those around you?
A: Dont spread it. If youre ill, stay home. Cough into your elbow, not into your hand. Dont sneeze into your hand, because you contaminate your hand. To protect yourself, its important to have good hand hygiene. Keep hands clean or use alcohol-based hand cleansers.
Q: When is it safe to return to work after the flu?
A: Its important to stay away while you have a fever. Otherwise, consult with your treating physician or health care provider.
Q: How about medicines such as Tamiflu?
A: The good news is that the current virus is sensitive to antiviral medications. They specifically interfere with the replication of the virus.
For more information, go to www.schsa.org and www.stanemergency.com. Bee staff writer Sharon K. Ghag can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2340.