Flu season runs from October through May, and February is one of the peak months for a season that has seen an alarming resurgence of the H1N1 flu virus — better known as swine flu.
On Friday, Jan. 31, the California Department of Public Health reported that there have been 149 deaths statewide attributed to H1N1 since the beginning of flu season. Of that total, eight were in Santa Clara County, two were in Monterey County, and three were in Santa Cruz County.
“There's been one confirmed death and we're waiting on two suspected cases,” said Laurie Lang, senior health educator for the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. The two cases were confirmed as flu victims on Thursday morning.
Countywide, there have been a total of nine confirmed cases of H1N1 placed in intensive care units. In each of the nine cases, the patients were under the age of 65.
Lang said that there may be more cases of H1N1, but only the fatal cases and those that are admitted into intensive care are documented. Swine flu is particularly dangerous because it affects young, healthy people as well as seniors, children, and those with chronic health conditions.
“There's a few strains going around, but H1N1 is the one that’s been causing most of the trouble,” Lang said.
She said that H1N1 is a “sudden onset” illness, which means that “you’re feeling fine one moment and the next you're feeling pretty bad — its not a slow buildup like a cold.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, swine flu symptoms include:
- A fever of 100 degrees or more
- Feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
- Cough and/or sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Headaches and/or body aches
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)
The best treatment for the flu, Lang said, is prevention through vaccine. Many pharmacies in the area offer flu shots that are covered by most insurances, and are affordable even for those without coverage.
“We really urge people to get vaccinated,” she said. “Even if you don’t have insurance or it doesn’t cover it, there’s lots of places that you can get it.”
One of the most common misconceptions about flu season, she said, is that people often think that once the flu season gets underway, it's too late to get vaccinated.
“There's lots of vaccines available,” Lang said. “It's recommended for everyone 6 months and older.”
She stressed that there was no shortage of vaccines or places to get them.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' website, www.flu.gov, features a Flu Vaccine Finder tool that searches out and lists the places in an area that offer flu vaccines.
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