To date, Riverside County has escaped the rapid pace of this year’s flu season that has stampeded into the East Coast and could be more severe than the 2016-2017 season.
Four states currently have widespread flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last winter there were none at this time.
As of Friday, there were two reportable cases in Riverside County, according to the Riverside University Health System. Reportable cases are individuals aged 0 to 64, who are hospitalized in the ICU or unfortunately had a flu-related death. Anyone older than 64 who had influenza would not be included in the count. Those who had it but did not seek medical attention would also not be included in the count.
Influenza season begins in October and continues through April.
“For this season, thus far, we have two severe cases, meaning, they were hospitalized in the ICU,” said Barbara Cole, branch chief of Public Health Disease Control for the Riverside University Health System. It’s within the expected level for this time of year. Historically, looking back at this point in time, we don’t usually see a lot of activity, but remember, it is still early and we certainly are still encouraging people to get their influenza vaccination.”
The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all people age 6 months and older. Certain people are at higher risk of complications from the flu, so it’s especially important that these people (and people who live with them) get vaccinated. They include: pregnant women.
“We haven’t seen peak activity yet and it takes about two weeks, after someone gets vaccinated, for their body to develop antibody, so it’s still very timely for people to get the flu shot,” Cole said.
There have been some reports that the flu shot is not working as designed, but Cole said she does not have any evidence, locally of that due to limited activity in Riverside County.
“I have no evidence that it’s not working,” she said.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:
Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
There have also been national reports that this year’s influenza season could be severe, but Cole does not buy into the hype – yet.
“Basically, what I can say is, it’s difficult to predict what type of influenza season that we will have,” Cole said. “That’s No. 1. No. 2, the more people who do get vaccinated, the less likely we’ll have an extreme year, but it’s still very early in the season, so we cannot predict, but at this time, our activity is in expected limits or range for this time of year. There’s still months where we could see an increase in the influenza, but it’s something that’s very difficult to predict. That’s another reason we continue to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
“Besides people getting vaccinated, if someone’s ill with fever and cough, it’s important that they not go to work while they’re infectious or send their children to school while they’re infectious because that’s how disease can get transmitted to others,” Cole said.
Additionally, the CDC suggests the following actions:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that 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 for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- 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.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
The CDC estimates that the flu shot prevented 40,000 deaths in the United States between the 2005-2006 and 2013-2014 seasons