News Column

Experts Predict California Next for Flu Outbreak

Dec 28, 2012

Barbara Anderson

The flu is coming.

Health providers say California is due for an influenza virus outbreak that so far has skirted the state.

Up till now, there have been only a smattering of flu cases in the central San Joaquin Valley, but California is surrounded by the virus and the bug likely will move this way before long, doctors say.

Flu season in the United States typically peaks in February and March -- sometimes even as late as April -- but this year a November flu arrival in the Southeast has doctors betting the season will reach its crescendo on the West Coast before then.

The virus has been on a westward move. In Arizona, for example, flu cases have doubled in the last week.

"Our time is coming," said Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead for the vaccine program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "I kind of expect that January is going to be a month with a lot of respiratory illnesses."

A recent uptick of influenza cases at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera County could signal Valley residents are in for a sneezy January.

Children's treated only one child for the flu in November but has had six flu-afflicted children this month -- four of them in the past two weeks.

Gregg Pullen, the hospital's infection control manager, expects more cases in the coming two months. He's just not sure how many. In past years, at the height of flu season, 100 to 200 children a month have been treated.

Tom Booth, supervising public health nurse for Fresno County, said the end of the holidays and return of children to classrooms and adults to work will jump-start flu season. "After Christmas travel is done, I would think a lot of flu is going to be transported back to California."

Bergen agreed. Once children get back in school there's going to be more sharing of the germ. The good news is people who have had flu shots should have protection, he said. The strain of influenza virus is a good match to the vaccine.

It's not too late for a flu shot, but time is running out, Bergen said. It takes about two weeks to build up immunity.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health has plenty of vaccine, Booth said. Chain pharmacies also continue to advertise flu shots.

Tips to avoid getting sick

-- Wash your hands.

-- Wash telephones, computer keyboards and other shared instruments.

-- Use tissue and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, then wash hands.

-- Get a flu shot.

-- When ill, stay home to protect others.

-- After a fever abates (without fever-lowering medicines), wait 24 hours before returning to work or school.

Source: (c)2012 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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