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Flu season in San Diego County higher than last year, says health department

Above: A scientist cuts the end of a human saliva sample in a small-diameter glass tube during the analysis for a A(H1N1) virus, the influenza A(H1N1), commonly being referred to as 'swine flu', on August 14, 2009.

The flu rate in San Diego County is up about 150 percent compared to last year, and infections might be peaking early, the county Health and Human Services Agency reported Thursday.

Since July 1, 357 flu cases have been reported to the HHSA, compared to 216 during the same period last year.

More than 150 cases were diagnosed last week, double the number of the prior week.

"While influenza can be unpredictable, our analysis of local data indicates influenza activity is rising faster and may peak sooner than it did last year," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer.

Around 5,300 influenza cases were diagnosed in San Diego County during last year's flu season, and 60 people died -- most of them elderly and with underlying medical conditions. Many of those sickened said symptoms felt more severe than usual.

No flu-related deaths have been reported this year.

Most of the cases diagnosed this season are the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic a few years ago. The flu vaccine protects against H1N1; Influenza B and last year's most common strain -- H3N2.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months or older get a flu vaccine every year. It takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after getting vaccinated.

"The flu season typically lasts through April," Wooten said. "If you haven't gotten your shot this season, you should get vaccinated now to protect yourself and your family."

The vaccine is available throughout San Diego County at doctors' offices and retail pharmacies.

County public health centers have flu vaccine available for children and adults with no medical insurance. For a list of locations, visit www.sdiz.org or call 2-1-1.

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