As of Jan. 31, the number of confirmed influenza-related deaths in California has jumped to 147, with 144 confirmed to be the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, reports the California Department of Public Health. So far, Nevada County has only reported one such death, which has now also been confirmed to be a result of H1N1.
Statewide statistics have jumped dramatically from the 2012-2013 season, which totaled just 14 during this time last year.
Compared to other flu viruses, H1N1 — currently the predominant virus — is hitting people harder than in past years, said physician and Nevada County Health Officer Ken Cutler.
“We’re seeing more severe symptoms among otherwise healthy folks,” he said. “But also consider that this group is the least likely to get vaccinated. We know that the current vaccination matches with the virus that is circulating. Flu season can extend into March — it’s definitely not to too late to get vaccinated.”
Those at highest risk — the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or those with other health conditions — who show flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately in order to get the most effective treatment. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
Prevention measures include washing hands frequently (while singing the full alphabet), limiting contact with the sick and not touching the eyes, mouth or nose, added Cutler.
“Most people don’t wash their hands long enough,” he said. “What’s difficult about the flu is that a person can transmit the virus a full day or so before they begin to feel sick.”
The influenza vaccine remains available and there is no widespread shortage of anti-virals for treatment, reports the CDPH, which continues to closely monitor influenza activity statewide.
“Out of the 7,350 positive flu tests in California, 6,966 have been influenza Type A rather than Type B and the clear majority of those are the A subtype H1N1,” said Alyssa Wargala, who has been a certified physician assistant at Yubadocs for the past five years. “Locally, at Yubadocs we have definitely seen the same trend. Patients presenting flu-like symptoms have definitely been more miserable than in recent years.”
Severe body aches and high fever have been the most prominent symptoms, with significant fatigue, headache and occasionally a dry cough, said Wargala. Someone with all of these symptoms at once runs the risk of becoming too weak and tired to care for themselves, and can become dangerously dehydrated. This can be life-threatening to otherwise healthy people.
“It is also important that people truly understand that the shot versions of the vaccine cannot cause an active case of influenza,” Wargala continued. “The shots are made from dead viral proteins and no actual live virus, so it is biologically impossible for the virus to grow and multiply, causing an infection. Getting the flu vaccine is still by far the best defense against contracting influenza and can be life-saving in years such as this.”
When a family member has the flu, the other prophylactic measure people can take — especially if they did not get a flu shot — is to get a prescription for Tamiflu, said Wargala.
“This is the same antiviral medicine that we used to help treat the flu,” she said. “This medication works to decrease the severity and length of the illness by inhibiting replication of the virus, so it is very important to start it in the first 48 hours of illness.”
Experts say that the flu will generally run its course in most individuals, but support care is essential, even with medication. Staying hydrated and controlling the body temperature to below 101 with Tylenol or Motrin will help with body aches, said Wargala.
Those with symptoms that become severe or last longer than a week should seek medical attention. People who are ill should stay home until they have been without a fever — without the use of medication — for at least 24 hours.
“If everyone stayed home until they were no longer contagious, we wouldn’t have such a significant flu outbreak locally,” said Wargala. “That means that teachers, schools and employers need to be understanding about allowing sick students and employees to stay home for their own health and that of everyone around them.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.
“We know that the current vaccination matches with the virus that is circulating. Flu season can extend into March — it’s definitely not to too late to get vaccinated.”
Nevada County Health Officer Ken Cutler.