Rise in flu cases prompts reminder from Sonoma County health officials

Though it got a late start this year, flu season is now here in force, and as the number of reported cases begins to ramp up, local health care officials are reminding North Coast residents that it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

Health officials said the flu already has claimed the lives of two Sonoma County residents, a teen and an adult. Seven severe cases of flu-related illness have been reported by local health care providers.

“It’s a slightly delayed season, but it’s definitely picking up across the country, California and Sonoma County,” said Karen Holbrook, deputy health officer for Sonoma County.

Holbrook reminded local residents that flu can be a very severe illness, especially for infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. What’s more, she said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of severe flu illness among young and middle-aged adults.

“There’s an increased flu activity,” she said. “If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, it’s not too late.”

Holbrook said there are four main strains of flu virus currently circulating in the United States, including an H1N1 subtype of the influenza A virus, the strain that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009 and 2010. That strain, she said, has been circulating ever since and has been known to cause severe illness.

The other flu strains making the rounds include the H3N2 subtype of the influenza A virus and two types of influenza B. The current available vaccine contains all four types of flu strains, she said.

Late arrival predicted

The typical flu season runs from October or November through the end of March. Dr. David Smith, a pediatrician with Annadel Medical Group, said the late arrival of this year’s flu season was expected. He said the flu is tracked globally through international surveillance stations.

The entire southern border of the United States, from Southern California to Texas, currently is registering high levels of flu-?related illness, he said.

“But it’s everywhere now,” Smith said. “As predicted, it’s coming a little later.”

Flu is a respiratory illness that can include a high fever, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, back and neck pain and chills.

“It’s miserable. It’s not just a bad cold,” Smith said.

This flu season’s severe cases and deaths already exceed the illness figures for the 2014-2015 flu season, when there were four severe cases of flu and two deaths. However, during the 2013-2014 flu season, there were 27 severe cases, six of which resulted in fatalities, Holbrook said.

Dr. Gary Green, head of infectious disease at Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center, said Kaiser facilities in Northern California are seeing mostly patients with influenza B, which causes less severe illness than influenza A. That’s unlike state and national flu data, which show that influenza A is more prevalent, he said.

In the past week, 17 percent of swabs tests resulted positive for influenza B, while only 7 percent were tested positive for influenza A.

In contrast, Holbrook said that across the state, more than 5,000 flu virus specimens that were “typed” were found to be influenza A and 45 percent were influenza B.

Green said the spread of various types of flu often varies from one “regional pocket” to another. But he said the viral makeup of the current vaccine is a “good match” with most of the flu that’s circulating.

“This year we estimated it right,” he said.

Sick? Stay home

Holbrook said that in order to stem the spread of flu, those with flu-like symptoms should stay home when sick and lay low at least 24 hours after a fever has passed.

“You should cover your nose or mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your nose or mouth and eyes,” she said.

“If you do get ill with flu-like symptoms and you are at high risk of severe disease, contact your health care provider immediately. Flu antiviral drugs can make the illness from flu milder and shorten the time you’re sick,” Holbrook said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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