California now has widespread flu activity in an earlier-than-normal season that is hitting seniors particularly hard, health experts said Friday.
The state's flu season typically does not peak until late February or March. So this could simply be an early season or it may be a sign of one that is especially severe, said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director for the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health.
Only time will tell.
Five people younger than 65 have died in the state so far this season, and flu-related hospitalizations and doctor visits are higher than usual for this time of year, Chavez said. The state does not track deaths in people over age 65, but Santa Clara County health officials reported this week that flu was responsible for the death of a 98-year-old woman earlier this month.
California has now joined 47 other states in reporting widespread activity.
The good news is that this year's vaccine is a good match for the circulating flu strains, and despite spot vaccine shortages at some pharmacies and health care providers, most are able to quickly reorder new supplies, Chavez said.
Seniors, young children and those with chronic illnesses are most at risk and should see a doctor promptly when they develop symptoms because treatment with antivirals such as Tamiflu within 48 hours of becoming ill can lessen the severity of the disease, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the national
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not everyone needs to see a doctor. But the time to go is if you develop a severe fever, are achy, feel like you've been hit by a brick, and "are so sore that your skin hurts," Chavez said.
Nationwide, nine children have died this season.
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