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Flu season has twists this year

A tenacious bug, ineffective vaccines and a late flu season mixed with spring-time allergies have many Nevada County residents wondering what hit them in recent weeks.

They’re part of a national wave of influenza. The National Centers for Disease Control has reported widespread flu activity since January in 44 states.

The number of annual flu victims may be not higher than usual, but this season is definitely different and could even be pushed by the current economy, health officials here said this week.



“There is a theory that when there is a recession, people come in to work” instead of staying home when they are sick, said Sharyn Turner, a nurse and health services coordinator with the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.

“They feel like they have to come into work because not everybody has sick time, or if they call in sick, somebody might take their spot,” Turner said.




At the Yuba Docs walk-in clinic in Grass Valley, 47 of 150 patients have tested positive for flu since December, according to office manager Kim Sargenti.

The cases have involved patients of all ages. Although numbers of sick people are normal for the season, “our staff took a licking,” Sargenti said. “A lot of people are getting secondary infections like bronchitis from it.”

At Sierra Care Physicians in Penn Valley, Dr. Mara Berezniak said she’s seeing more flu patients than normal this season.

She thinks she may know why.

“Maybe it’s lasting longer and they can’t get over it, and that’s why they’re coming in” to work, Berezniak said. “It seems to be lasting longer than usual.”

“I’ve actually been recovering from the flu myself,” said Dr. Peter Van Houten, at the Sierra Family Medical Clinic on the San Juan Ridge. “Rather than your standard time of three to five days, people have been coming back after two to three weeks and asking what is wrong.”

The lengthy flu may result from one of the influenza strains that was not considered when this year’s flu vaccine was developed, Van Houten said. He and lots of patients he vaccinated caught the feisty variety of bug, despite getting their annual flu shots.

The vaccine has been 40 percent effective this year, according to Dr. Joseph Iser, Nevada County’s public health director. During normal flu seasons, it’s about 70 percent effective.

The problem is that health officials and pharmaceutical companies have to decide one year ahead which strains their vaccine will fight for the next season, Iser said. The Northern Hemisphere’s vaccine is based on what hit the Southern Hemisphere the year before, because the maladies tend to move north.

This year’s vaccine was for three kinds of influenza strains A and B, Iser said, “A Wisconsin, A Solomon Islands and B Malaysia. What it’s not killing is A Brisbane 10, which is what seems to be hitting the most people.”

Those who are not hit too hard are being told to skip work, get plenty of rest and drink fluids. Some with severe cases are getting antiviral medicines.

On top of the flu, some sufferers also are feeling spring, Turner said.

“There are many kinds of (flu) viruses, and pollens and allergies can exacerbate them,” Turner said.

The county no longer has any flu vaccine, but patients can check with their doctors if they still want it, Iser said.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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