Flu cases on the rise in California

Chuck Walbridge, 61, from Santa Cruz, receives his flu shot from Gavilan College student nurse Cristina Gonzalez during the annual flu clinic hosted by San Benito County at the Veterans Memorial Building in January. Another free flu clinic is set for 1:30

San Benito County Public Health’s flu clinic Tuesday came just days before the California Department of Public Health announced an increase in flu activity in California.

Ron Chapman, the state health officer, said the increase is expected and it is not too late to get vaccinated against the flu.

“California is seeing an accelerated increase in flu activity over the past few weeks,” Chapman said, in a press release. “You can help prevent further spread of the flu by getting a flu shot.”

As of Jan. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started receiving regional or widespread reports of seasonal flu in 49 of 50 states.

Since Sept. 30 through Jan. 11, there were 20 pediatric deaths related to influenza nationwide.

CDPH surveillance indicates influenza activity in California is beginning to show a steady increase.

“The best defense against the flu is getting vaccinated,” Chapman said. “This year’s vaccine is an excellent match against this year’s influenza strains. There is no shortage of vaccine in California and it is not too late to get vaccinated. Our flu season may not peak for several more weeks.”

Children in California from 4 to 18 years or age may be eligible to receive a free flu vaccination at Target locations through Jan. 31. The Target pharmacy in Hollister is one of the participating locations that is offering the free vaccination, at 1790 Airline Highway.

Target suggests calling ahead to make sure the vaccination is available at 638-4824. Residents can also get the vaccination at other local pharmacies, doctor’s offices or clinics.

In past years, the San Benito County Public Health Department held a free flu vaccination clinic in the fall, with the last one held in November 2011. This year, the agency encouraged residents to get a vaccination from local pharmacies, a primary care physician or other sources.

Samela Perez, the public information officer for public health, said the clinic was offering Flu Mist for those six months old to 49, with a flu shot for those 50 and older.

“Today shows there is a need,” Perez said. “It is a great resource to get it free. For a large family, it can be expensive.”

Alvaro Garza, the county’s medical officer,  said the seasonal flu vaccination can change year to year, with experts trying to determine what strains are likely to be most aggressive each season. This year’s vaccination includes protection against three viruses, including H1N1 from last season. The two new strains include H3N2 and B vaccine viruses.

“It’s not too late,” Garza said, of getting the vaccination into February or March.

Limit the spread of seasonal flu:

  • While sick, limit contact with others
  • Cover your nose or mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based rub
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

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