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Flu Death Count Rises To 32 In San Diego County

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.

UPDATED: 4:35 p.m., Jan. 24, 2020

A dozen influenza deaths were recorded in San Diego County last week, bringing the season's total to 32, compared to 24 at this time last year, the Health and Human Services Agency reported Wednesday.

The HHSA also recorded 2,292 local lab-confirmed cases last week compared to 487 cases reported in the county during the same week last year, when the season-to-date total was 3,130. The 9,919 cases reported to date this season now exceed the 9,655 cases detected in all of last season, according to health officials.

"The number of deaths and cases being reported are a sign that influenza is not easing up," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer. "Vaccination is the best defense we have against the flu. People who have not gotten immunized should do it now."

The latest 12 influenza deaths included a 34-year-old woman from East County who had underlying medical conditions. She had also received a flu shot, county records show.

Dr. Eric McDonald, medical director of the county's Epidemiology and Immunization Services Branch, said the death of an immunized patient shouldn’t deter others from seeking the vaccine.

“The main message people need to have is that the vaccination is the most effective single thing that you can do to protect yourself against the flu, but no vaccine including the flu vaccine is 100 percent effective,” McDonald said in a phone interview.

The woman had tested positive for influenza B. This season’s vaccine protects against the B virus, but McDonald said it doesn’t match well with the lineage that happens to be circulating in San Diego and across the U.S.

However, he said the vaccine does match well with a flu A strain that is making people sick, known as H1N1.

County health officials are encouraging people who are sick to first contact their health care provider by telephone or arrange an urgent appointment, but to go to an emergency department if they have any of the following symptoms:

— difficulty breathing or shortness of breath;

— chest pain or abdominal pain;

— sudden dizziness;

— confusion;

— severe or persistent vomiting; or

— flu-like symptoms that appear to get better, but then return with a fever and worse cough.

County health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advise the annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older, especially in demographics with a heightened risk of serious complications, such as pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and lung disease, and people age 65 or older.

Residents can take precautions against contracting the virus by frequent hand washing, cleaning commonly touched surfaces, avoiding contact with sick people, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

The flu vaccine is available at local doctors' offices, retail pharmacies and the county's public health centers. A full list of locations offering flu shots can be found at the county's immunization website, sdiz.org, or by calling 211 for the county's health hotline.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

This story was updated to include more information on the East County woman who died.

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