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County seeing low flu activity

But nation is experiencing upsurge

Staff Writer
Fighting the flu:

1. Take time to get a flu vaccine

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.

• While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common.

• Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as the current season’s vaccines are available.

• Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.

• People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

• Vaccination also is important for health care workers and other people who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to those of high risk.

• Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

2. Everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• If you are sick with a flu-like illness, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)

• While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. 3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them

• If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness.

• Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over the counter.

• Antiviral drugs can make an illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For people with high-risk factors, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

• Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health issue or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking this drug.

• Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

San Bernardino County and the rest of California are reporting minimum levels of influenza, while many parts of the country are seeing a disturbing hike.

“Reports of influenza-like-illness are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons,” Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

Twenty-nine states and New York City are reporting high levels of influenza-like illness, according to CDC’s latest FluView report. More than eight in 100,000 people nationwide have been hospitalized for flu, and the CDC has received reports of 18 pediatric deaths this season.

“This is high for this time of year,” Bresee said.

But 10 states, including California, are still reporting low or minimal influenza-like illness.

“Everything looks to be OK so far,” said Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare, San Bernardino County health officer. “But having said that, this past week we saw a little bit of an upsurge.”

John Radar, spokesperson for Barstow Community Hospital, wrote in an email that the hospital is seeing “an increase” in the number of people visiting the emergency room with the flu.

The hospital advises anyone who is at least 6 months of age to get an annual flu shot, particularly those who are at a high risk of flu complications, he stated.

The hospital also asks visitors to stay home if they are sick, but “patients with a scheduled procedure or in need of medical care should not hesitate” to come in.

Victor Valley Community Hospital is seeing about triple the amount of patients admitted from the emergency department into the hospital with flu-like illness compared to last season, according to spokeswoman Lovella Sullivan.

“Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” Bresee stated. “People who have severe influenza illness or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms, regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated.”

BCH and VVCH offer free flu shots to their staff, and the employees at VVCH are required to report whether they’ve been vaccinated.

“People should get a flu shot because it not only protects them but it protects other people from catching flu,” Ohikhuare said.

The CDC lists some misconceptions about flu shots on its website. For example, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness, according to the CDC, because the influenza viruses contained in the vaccine are killed.

The timing of influenza seasons is impossible to predict, but flu activity will likely continue for some time, according to CDC.

Increased media coverage of the recent flu activity has resulted in “a sharp increase in community members interested in receiving a flu shot,” Radar noted.

BCH is currently providing free flu shots while supplies last by appointment today, Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To make an appointment, call 760-957-3392.

Staff writer Shea Johnson contributed to the story.

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