SAN DIEGO – Influenza season is underway in San Diego County and health officials are advising people to get their flu shots early.
Last week, a 73-year-old woman who died of complications from influenza was the region's first fatality of the current flu season, county health officials reported. The unnamed woman died Oct. 4 after a brief hospitalization, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency. She was not vaccinated and suffered from existing medical conditions.
"This is one of the earliest deaths from seasonal influenza ever reported in the county," said Dr. Sayone Thihalolipavan, the county deputy public health officer. "The seasonal influenza vaccine is widely available and we urge everyone six months of age and older to get it before flu activity increases."
In the last flu season, 68 people died -- mostly older patients who already had health problems, the HHSA said. The first fatality last year wasn't reported until Oct. 28.
Right now, Rady Children's Hospital patients can get their flu shot while they’re being seen for other medical appointments. Rady officials said this year’s vaccination is slightly different than last year’s because patients with egg and chicken allergies will not have to worry about allergic reactions to the shot.
People with underlying health issues are advised to get the vaccine early.
“Not everybody gets the vaccine, so the groups that we especially want to make sure get it are people who have underlying conditions, heart disease, lung disease, any problem with diabetes,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer with the Division of Infectious Diseases at Rady Children's Hospital. “It's extremely important that those people get immunized and the people around them in their house.”
Sixty lab-confirmed influenza cases have been reported so far this season in San Diego County, compared to 68 at this point last year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that influenza activity is low across the country, although localized influenza outbreaks have been reported.
The HHSA is hosting flu vaccination clinics around the county this month. Details and locations are online here.
The current flu vaccines offer protection against pandemic H1N1, as well as influenza A H3N2 and influenza B strains.
The CDC recommends flu shots annually for everyone at least 6 months old. Vaccination is more important for people with weakened immune systems, as well as those who are pregnant, elderly or live with or care for others at high risk.
Other suggestions for staying healthy include frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizers, staying away from sick people, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth, and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.
Flu vaccines are available at doctors' offices and pharmacies. People without medical insurance can go to a county public health center to get vaccinated. A list of locations is available at www.sdiz.org or by calling 211.