While it’s impossible to accurately predict how influenza will affect people in San Diego County in the coming months, current indicators suggest the region and the rest of the country could be in for a rough flu season, according to Scripps Health experts.
One of those signs comes from the Southern Hemisphere, where Australia is wrapping up its worst flu season on record. (Flu seasons south of the equator often are good predictors of how the disease will behave in the Northern Hemisphere.)
Locally, public health officials in the region already have reported two local flu deaths, with the first one coming eight weeks earlier than last year’s first-reported death from influenza. And so far, the county has confirmed 36 cases of the disease, more than double the 15 confirmed cases by this time last year.
“We don’t yet know how bad this year’s flu season will be, but we do know that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu,” Craig Uejo, MD, a Scripps Coastal Medical Group preventive medicine specialist.
Beyond the physical discomfort and schedule disruptions that a routine case of influenza can bring, the virus also can be deadly. Last year, 77 people died from the flu in San Diego County while the virus killed as many as 61,000 nationwide. The season prior was even worse with 343 deaths in San Diego County and 79,000 nationwide in 2017-2018.
“While some experts may disagree about the optimum timing to receive the flu shot, most including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting the shot by the end of October,” Dr. Uejo said. ”As for this year, the earlier start to the flu season means it’s not too early to get the flu shot right now.”
Flu vaccine is now available widely across San Diego County, including at 17 Scripps Clinic and Scripps Coastal primary care sites, which are open by appointment to all Scripps patients, and at 13 same-day, walk-in Scripps HealthExpress clinics, which are open to all adults and children and accept most insurance coverage. Scripps patients can call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777) to schedule a visit with their physician.
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months or older, especially those who are at high risk for complications from the flu, including people 65 years and older; children under the age of 2; pregnant women; and people with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, weakened immune systems and morbid obesity.
Because there are many different flu viruses and they constantly evolve, this year’s vaccine is designed to cover the four strains expected to be the most common in circulation during the 2019-20 influenza season: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), influenza B (Victoria) and influenza B (Yamagata).
Once the vaccine is administered, it takes about two weeks for the body to build up enough antibodies to develop immunity.
Common flu symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, and some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Scripps physicians also recommend these other practices during flu season:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Watch out for flu symptoms, which can include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
- Stay away from sick people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- If you become sick, stay home from work and school, and avoid contact with others. The CDC recommends staying home for a least 24 hours after a fever is gone without using fever-reducing medicine.
- Avoid the emergency room unless you are suffering from more serious flu symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; chest or abdomen pain or pressure; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; or flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- For children, seek emergency medical help if they are breathing fast or are having trouble breathing; have bluish skin color; aren’t drinking enough fluids; aren’t waking up or interacting; are so irritable they don’t want to be held; have a fever with a rash; aren’t able to eat, don’t shed tears when crying; have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal; or have flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- Check with your doctor to see if you should be treated with an antiviral drug.
Anyone can walk in to a HealthExpress location to receive care for the flu or can hold a place in line by dialing 858-554-7439 to speak with a triage nurse or by visiting www.scrippshealthexpress.com.
Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.