SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Flu season has arrived and County health officials are encouraging San Diegans to familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms of influenza, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their family members.
To date, more than 1,600 San Diegans have been diagnosed with a lab-confirmed case of influenza. The 1,664 cases reported to the County since July 1 of this year, are more than seven times higher than the 217 cases reported at the same time last year during the 2021-22 flu season. While the County monitors flu activity year-round, flu season is typically October to March or later each year.
Respiratory illnesses historically increase during fall and winter as many people move gatherings indoors, but flu activity typically does not peak until December or January.
This year, the County has already seen several large suspected respiratory outbreaks in October, including a cluster of illnesses at local schools. The high number of flu cases and other respiratory illnesses this early in the season is prompting health officials to urge San Diegans to take precautions.
“We have reason to believe that respiratory illnesses could be extremely disruptive in the region this year for businesses, hospitals, and people’s lives. San Diegans must do their part to prevent the spread of these illnesses,” said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “I want to remind San Diegans to use precautions we know are effective in protecting against illness, including the flu.”
Wooten added that people should recommit themselves to the following precautions this fall and winter:
- Wash hands thoroughly and often;
- Use hand sanitizers, if unable to wash hands;
- Stay away from sick people;
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;
- Clean commonly touched surfaces; and
- If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot every year. It takes about two weeks for immunity to develop after vaccination. The CDC also says you can get a flu and COVID-19 vaccination at the same time, including the new bivalent booster dose. The COVID-19 vaccine does not work against influenza and vice versa.
The influenza vaccine is 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 public health center location, visit the County’s Flu Vaccine Locations page or call 2-1-1 San Diego.
COVID-19 and influenza are both spread from person-to-person, especially indoors and in crowded places. Symptoms for both viruses include fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain, as well as a sore throat and coughing.
Since symptoms for both the flu and COVID are similar, but treatment varies, testing is the best tool to help sick individuals determine a plan of action.
“Get tested for COVID-19 and the flu when you develop respiratory symptoms and stay away from others if you are sick,” Wooten said. “Protect yourself and your loved ones. Seek medical treatment if your symptoms worsen or if you have an underlying condition that puts you at an increased risk of severe outcomes from the flu or COVID.”
High-risk individuals include:
- 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; and
- People who live with or care for others who are at higher risk.
During the 2021-2022 flu season, 4,192 flu cases were reported and eight San Diegans died from influenza. During the 2020-2021 flu season, a total of 848 influenza cases were reported in San Diego, including two deaths.
County Launches Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report
The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is introducing a new combined Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report that will provide San Diegans with a detailed snapshot of common respiratory illness activity in the region on a weekly basis.
The new report will be released each Thursday and contains, for now, both flu and COVID-19 activity, including cases, outbreak information and deaths. The report contains graphs and tables that allow the community to compare illness activity this year to activity during prior seasons.
The Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report replaces the separate Influenza Watch and COVID-19 Watch reports the County released previously.
“The new report paints a more comprehensive picture of respiratory illness activity in the region,” said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “The report is a one-stop-shop for community members and healthcare providers, and we will continue to update it with new features in the future, as necessary.”
WATCH RELATED: Suspected respiratory outbreak at Patrick Henry High School under investigation (Oct. 13, 2022)