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Following Deadly Flu Season, San Diego Health Officials Urge Vaccination

An influx of patients with flu symptoms pack emergency rooms and clinics in S...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: An influx of patients with flu symptoms pack emergency rooms and clinics in San Diego County, including at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, Jan. 3, 2018.

Following one of San Diego County’s deadliest flu seasons on record, health officials are urging everyone six months and older to get vaccinated now as a new season gets underway.

Last winter and spring, 342 people in the county died from flu-related complications, including two children, according to the County Health and Human Services Agency. Thousands of others experiencing fevers, coughs, congestion and fatigue overwhelmed the region's hospital emergency rooms and clinics.

“We need to take this disease very seriously,” said Dr. Robert Schooley, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The more people who get vaccinated, the less likely it is for this influenza strain to break out and cause deaths.”

Schooley said this flu season could be milder than last year, if it mimics the Southern Hemisphere’s season, like it often does.

“But having a good year in the South, and not that many cases, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be quiet in the North,” Schooley said. “We have to keep our eyes open because once a new influenza strain breaks out, it breaks out wherever it happens to come from and will then bounce from hemisphere to hemisphere over the course of the next couple of years.”

He said the same influenza strain that made the rounds last season is expected to stick around this season.

“Based on last year, it will probably be H3N2 again,” he said.

The H3N2 strain is included in this year’s Centers For Disease Control influenza vaccine, which was updated from last year to better match the circulating virus. The vaccine also includes pandemic H1N1 and influenza B strains, the agency reported.

Schooley said even if the vaccine is not a perfect match, it helps prevent severe cases and fatalities.

“It also decreases the length of time people shed virus and spread it to other people,” he said. “So it’s really an investment in decreasing deaths and also decreasing the ability of the virus to saturate the population.”

The flu vaccine, which takes approximately two weeks for immunity to develop, is available at doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies. People without medical insurance can go to a community clinic or a county public health center.

For a list of locations, visit www.sdiz.org or call 2-1-1.

“We need to take this disease very seriously,” said Dr. Robert Schooley, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The more people who get vaccinated, the less likely it is for this influenza strain to break out and cause deaths.”

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