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San Diego County Launching Weekly Flu Reports Ahead Of Potentially Severe Season

Microbiologist Anthony Aziz walks through the steps of testing a nasal swab f...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: Microbiologist Anthony Aziz walks through the steps of testing a nasal swab for influenza at the San Diego County Public Health Laboratory, Sept. 26, 2019.

San Diego County is releasing its weekly reports on flu activity beginning Wednesday after influenza-associated deaths occurred earlier than expected. Two people have died from the illness since July.

The fatalities and a large number of cases so early in the season pushed the county to begin the reports slightly sooner than previous years but the launch date varies from season to season.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director for the county's epidemiology and immunization services branch, said 198 people, including the two who died, already tested positive for the flu.

When should you get your flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people receive an annual flu vaccine by late October. The federal health agency said it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to become effective against the flu. The vaccine is typically recommended for people at least 6 months old.

Vaccine clinics are located across San Diego County.

“Which is a little higher than we would expect at this point in the year," McDonald said.

The three-year average to date is 94 cases and zero deaths. McDonald said the current rate of nearly 200 confirmed instances is comparable to what occurred around this time during the 2017-18 season, one of the region's most severe. By its end, 342 people had died.

McDonald said this season could also be serious.

"Flu is coming. Prepare as if it's going to be bad," he said, noting the vaccine is currently available.

The county's weekly flu reports will include laboratory confirmed cases, percent of emergency room patients presenting flu-like symptoms and any deaths. The state only requires physicians report fatalities for patients under 18 years old, a recent change. Previously, fatalities were to be reported for patients under 65 years.

Despite the updated requirement, officials in nearby Orange and Riverside counties said they will require the reporting of deaths for patients under 65 years old. However, San Diego County officials will continue to request all flu deaths be reported regardless of age.

McDonald said that can make it seem our region is faring worse than others, such as two years ago when more than 340 people died.

"Now that was more than a lot of other locations were reporting across the state and people said, 'Gee, you’re reporting a lot of deaths,' but that’s just cause we’re good at reporting," he said. "It doesn’t mean that deaths aren’t occurring elsewhere.”

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said its communicable diseases control program also requests health care providers report flu-related deaths for patients of all ages. While San Bernardino will follow the state's new guidelines.

RELATED: San Diego Migrant Shelter Treats Sick Families Coming Out Of Custody

San Diego County contributes its weekly influenza reports to statewide and national surveillance programs.

Anna Liza Manlutac, supervising public health microbiologist, said that shared information includes the flu strains identified in the region. She said officials use the data to evaluate the efficacy of this year's vaccine as well as plan for the future.

"Once we've established what's in the community, we do sub-typing — we don't only do a screening — so the sub-typing will help to see what is in the community just so they can go ahead and use that for the vaccine next year," Manlutac said.

Recommendations for influenza vaccine development come from the World Health Organization, which relies on data from health agencies across the globe, including the CDC.

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