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11th Flu Death Reported As Influenza Cases Soar In San Diego County

Ozeal Thrift, 82, receives a flu vaccination at the County of San Diego's inf...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Ozeal Thrift, 82, receives a flu vaccination at the County of San Diego's influenza vaccine kick-off event in the Oak Park neighborhood of Southeast San Diego, Sept. 29, 2017.

The number of influenza cases and related fatalities skyrocketed in the San Diego region last week, pushing the "flu season'' totals to levels far ahead of the same time last year, county health officials reported on Wednesday.

According to the county Health and Human Services Agency, 2,227 new flu cases were confirmed by laboratory testing last week, raising this season's total to 3,873, well above the 599 reported at the same time last year. It's the first time more than 1,000 influenza cases were seen in the county in a single week, and is about four times more than the week before, according to Dr. Sayone Thihalolipavan, the county deputy public health officer.

The HHSA's weekly "Influenza Watch'' report noted that the jump coincided with an uptick of cases at long-term care facilities.

The rise in flu cases has caused some hospitals to take extra precautions, such as limiting patient visitation. Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa set up a tent outside of its emergency room to handle the influx of patients.

"The surge tent was set up today as a temporary measure to manage the increase in patient volume. By late (Wednesday) afternoon there were no patients being seen in the tent, but it will remain in place to treat patients when needed," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "Earlier (Wednesday) approximately 20 patients were treated. Staffing currently consists of two nurses and two runners, a physician assistant and a physician. The tent will remain in position until we see an appropriate decline in the number of flu patients. We will be able to make a more positive determination in the next few days."

Six additional fatalities were reported last week, pushing the total number of deaths so far to 11. Last year at this time, the death toll was four.

In the 2014-15 flu season, which resulted in a recent high of 97 fatalities, there were around 600 cases and no fatalities at this point.

Most of the deaths this year have involved people over the age of 65, the HHSA reported.

"Influenza can be deadly, especially for the elderly and the very young,'' Thihalolipavan said. "The number of flu cases that were reported last week is the highest in a single week that we have seen in recent years.''

Thihalolipavan urged San Diegans to get flu shots if they haven't already.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots annually for everyone at least 6 months old. Vaccination is more important for people with weakened immune systems, as well as those who are pregnant, elderly or live with or care for others at high risk.

Other suggestions for staying healthy include frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizers, staying away from sick people, avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth, and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.

Flu vaccines are available at doctors' offices and pharmacies. People without medical insurance can go to a county public health center to get vaccinated. A list of locations is available at www.sdiz.org or by calling 211.

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