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San Diego County Experiencing Early But Steady Flu Activity

A San Diego County microbiologist holds a test tube containing a nasal swap f...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: A San Diego County microbiologist holds a test tube containing a nasal swap frozen in a liquid solution for influenza testing at the San Diego County Public Health Laboratory, Sept. 26, 2019.

San Diego County health officials are encouraging the public to get a flu shot as more people are contracting the illness earlier in the season than compared to recent years.

Lab results confirm 300 people have contracted the flu in San Diego County and two patients have died since July. Last year at this time, officials reported 88 cases and zero deaths. The current figure is also above the three-year average of 146 cases and one death.

Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director for the county's epidemiology and immunization services branch, said the early flu activity likely means the county is experiencing a gradual increase instead of a steep incline toward an expected seasonal peak.

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“We’re having a little bit earlier activity. It seems to be rather steady, but it’s certainly not picking up when you'd expect it to—when the flu season really starts hitting," McDonald said.

Officials begin tallying cases in July of each flu season, but illnesses often surge around late fall to mid-winter. The comparison of weekly flu data to past years can offer insight on the severity of the current season but isn't an accurate predictor because each cycle varies, McDonald said.

"Some have early peaks, some have double peaks, some are long and slow, some have one virus that’s dominant the entire season," he said.

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Last flu year, a second strain caused a surge of cases late in the season.

McDonald said San Diegans should expect this season to be severe and protect themselves with a flu shot. Vaccines are available through health care providers or for free at the county's health clinics.

Despite the early flu action in San Diego, only California's upper southern region is experiencing "elevated activity," according to the state health department. The area includes Kern, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report flu activity is low across the U.S. The determination is based on the percent of outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses. All states, including California, are experiencing minimal activity except Louisiana, where flu activity is high.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

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