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Influenza sickening more San Diegans this season

Given this season’s pace, county health officials are urging San Diegans to get their flu vaccination before influenza activity increases in the region.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The number of influenza cases being reported in the region this season is higher than the average for this same time in recent years, the County Health and Human Services Agency announced Wednesday.

A total of 195 lab-confirmed influenza cases have been reported so far this season. That compared to six at the same time last year, but that extremely low number came while many COVID-19 restrictions were still in place. The prior five-year average was 128 cases to date.

Given this season’s pace, County health officials are urging San Diegans to get their flu vaccination before influenza activity increases in the region.

“San Diegans should get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their families,” says Cameron Kaiser, M.D., M.P.H., County deputy public health officer. “Getting a flu shot is especially important given that COVID-19 is still negatively impacting our communities. Influenza and COVID-19 can both be significant respiratory illnesses and we have safe and effective vaccines for both. You can even get a flu and COVID shot at the same time.” 

The County Health and Human Services Agency has begun publishing the weekly Influenza Watch report, which tracks key influenza indicators and summarizes influenza surveillance in the region. The report is released every Wednesday during the flu season.

Dr. Mark Sawyer works at Rady Children’s Hospital and teaches at UCSD. He said anyone over six months old is eligible to get the flu vaccine and it takes about two weeks for people to develop immunity. Sawyer also says this year is going to be especially challenging because other viruses are making a comeback.

“We saw this summer the resurgence of the pediatric virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV. Which normally only happens in the wintertime in San Diego but for some reason, it started showing up this summer in record-high numbers,” Sawyer said. 

Dr. Sawyer said seniors should request the flu vaccine designed specifically for seniors. If you start to feel flu symptoms like a body aches or fever, he said to take a COVID-19 test so you know whether or not you need to quarantine.

“It’s going to be impossible to tell the difference between influenza and COVID. So, if you want to reduce your chances of having to stay off of work, or not go to school or whatever that’ll happen because you have respiratory symptoms, because people think you have COVID, then get a flu shot,” Sawyer said. 

Your Best Shot Against the Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot every year. It takes about two weeks for immunity to develop.

“Flu vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications from influenza,” Kaiser said.

The following groups are more likely get seriously sick from the flu:

  • People with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and lung disease, even if symptoms are under control
  • Pregnant women
  • People aged 65 years and older
  • People who live with or care for others who are at higher risk

The influenza vaccine is now available at doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies and is covered by medical insurance. People with no health care coverage can get vaccinated at one of the County’s six public health centers or a local community clinic. To find the nearest location, visit the County’s Flu Vaccine Locations page or call 2-1-1 San Diego.

Tips to Prevent the Flu

In addition to getting vaccinated, people should also do the following to avoid getting sick:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often
  • Use hand sanitizers
  • Stay away from sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others

Last season, a total of 848 influenza cases were reported in San Diego, including two deaths. In 2019, a total of 108 San Diegans died from influenza and more than 20,700 flu cases were reported.

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