Alameda prepares for growing flu epidemic
A severe flu epidemic that has dogged much of the nation has taken hold of California in recent weeks, though local public health officials said they are well prepared to handle additional flu cases and they urged people to get flu shots if they have not done so already.
“It’s widespread. But the system is not being overwhelmed,” Alameda County Public Health Department spokeswoman Sherri Willis said of this season’s flu outbreak.
The state public health department reported a sharp rise in flu cases in mid-January, with anecdotal data showing outbreaks becoming more widespread. As of January 26, 14 Californians under the age of 65 had died influenza-related deaths, including two Bay Area residents.
A Flu Tracker set up by Google showed flu activity in California surging in January, about a month later than in the United States as a whole. This year’s high rate of flu activity follows several mild years, Google’s data showed.
So far, the state has recorded 29 flu outbreaks, 13 of them during the week that ended on January 26. Eleven of those were in institutions or congregate living facilities, one took place in a school and another in an unidentified community setting.
Alameda Hospital has seen just two flu cases so far this season, a number infection preventionist Rosemary Delahaye said is about the same as previous years.
“We give the vaccinations some credit for the low numbers at Alameda Hospital,” Delahaye said.
The hospital administered between 350 and 400 doses of flu vaccine at its annual health fair, spokeswoman Louise Nakada said, and another 60 during a late January clinic that was set up in response to the rising prevalence of flu cases in California.
Public health officials have stressed that the timing of flu season is unpredictable; while it typically peaks in January or February, it could begin as early as October and end as late as May.
Symptoms for the flu, a contagious respiratory illness, can include a fever and body aches, cough, sore throat, runny nose and fatigue. Its severity can depend on what strains are circulating and how many people are effectively vaccinated it against it, though young children, seniors, pregnant women and people who live in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities are especially vulnerable.
Willis said the county doesn’t track flu cases – they keep an eye on whether Alameda County’s emergency rooms have enough capacity to handle the flu cases that are coming through their doors. Even with the rising flu activity, she said the answer is yes.
“They are not diverting patients because they are overcrowded,” Willis said.
Alamedans have had mixed experiences this flu season, with some holding up under the strength of their flu shots and others suffering the effects of the flu:
Local public health officials, like their state and national peers, are urging people who have not been vaccinated against the flu to contact their health care provider or to come to them in order to receive the vaccine, which is being recommended for children and adults six months and older. This year’s vaccine, which was made to fight three different influenza strains, has so far cut recipients’ risk of having to go to the doctor for the flu by 60 percent, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Willis offered a list of clinics where people may go to receive a vaccine, and Alameda Hospital’s Nakada said the hospital may offer an additional vaccination clinic if needed and urged those in need of vaccination to call the hospital at 814-4362.
Health officials are also urging the public to take common-sense precautions that include covering coughs and sneezes; washing hands frequently with soap and water; disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, school and work; and being mindful while transiting through crowded places. They are also asking people to stay home from work if they’re sick, though Willis said that may not always be possible.
“A lot of people who work part-time jobs or jobs without benefits don’t have sick leave. If they don’t come to work, they don’t get paid. So they come to work,” she said. “Obviously, we’d all be healthier if they didn’t have to do that.”