Earlier-than-usual reports of flu, including one severe enough for the patient to be hospitalized, is prompting Los Angeles County health officials to urge residents to get immunized.
“While occasional reports of cases and sometimes low levels of influenza can continue throughout the summer and early fall, these recent reports suggest a possible early start to the influenza season in our area,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of LA County Department of Public Health.
Anyone 6 months of age and older is encouraged to get a flu shot or nasal spray vaccine, Fielding said. He added that residents should practice basic hygiene, such as hand washing, to prevent the spread of flu.
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Laboratory reports identify the hospitalized patient's strain as Influenza A H1N1, which is covered by this year's vaccine along with two or three other common strains.
It can take up to two weeks to develop an immune response, so health officials urged vaccination as early in the flu season as possible.
Each year, up to 220,000 people are hospitalized and an average 24,000 patients die nationwide as a result of influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year's flu season was "moderately severe," a higher percentage of outpatient visits for flu-like illness, higher hospitalization rates and more reported deaths attributed to the flu compared with recent years, accoridng to the CDC.
Health officials say it's still too early to tell if the flu season's early start in Southern California -- two months ahead of the so-called peak of the flu season -- is a predictor of a heavier season.
Early symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, headache and muscle ache, though it can affect each person differently, Fielding said.
Vaccination is particularly important for those at greater risk or those caring for others at risk of developing complications, including:
- pregnant women;
- children younger than 5 years old;
- adults 50 years old or older;
- anyone whose immune system is compromised due to disease or medication;
- anyone with a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes or who is overweight or obese;
- people who work or live in nursing homes or long-term facilities; and
- health care and day care workers.
Low-cost flu vaccines are available at many pharmacies and supermarkets.
Those without health insurance can seek free immunizations sponsored by the county.
The first community outreach event offering free vaccinations is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 28 in Van Nuys.
Details can be found at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov or by calling 211.
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