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Increase in Influenza Cases Brings Reminders About Getting Vaccinated

An increase in influenza cases, including five outbreaks at residential- care facilities in Santa Barbara County, has prompted public health authorities to remind people to get vaccinated. 

UCSB Student Health also has urged students to include getting a flu shot as they head back to school after winter break.

Health officials say the predominant influenza strain this year, H3N2, tends to cause more severe illness, more hospitalizations, and more deaths, prompting a renewed push to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“It’s come early and hard,” said Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. 

Influenza cases typically occur from October to May, but the number of cases seen so far has worried health officials. 

In response, representatives of the Lompoc Comprehensive Care Center announced in December that all visitors would be screened for influenza-like illness at the skilled-nursing facility, using guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This feels like it’s a little early. It’s a concern to us,” Klein-Rothschild said.

The Public Health Department tracks the number of influenza-like illnesses seen by hospitals and physicians in the county, and said cases were higher for December compared to the same time in 2016.

Some reports say this year's vaccine is not as effective as in the past, but public health officials still urge people to get vaccinated since it covers different viruses.

“It’s always worth trying to get the flu shot,” she said. 

Even if a vaccine doesn’t prevent someone from getting the flu, it still can benefit the patient, Klein-Rothschild said.

“If you get it, it may be a less severe case," she added.

Health officials recommend the vaccine for anyone 6 months and older and say it’s especially important for groups at highest risk of severe illness: adults over age 65, children under age 5, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions such as lung or heart disease.

Vaccines are available at most pharmacies and other medical facilities, with the Public Health Department website listing locations.

The list is available here.

UCSB Student Health noted the uptick in flu activity in reminding students about vaccines.

“While this year’s flu vaccine is expected to be about 30 percent effective in preventing infection with this strain (H3N2), it can still dramatically reduce the severity and duration of the illness in everyone else who got the vaccine,” Student Health Service representatives posted on social media. "Be sure to get your flu vaccine ASAP!"

The UCSB center offers flu shots on a walk-in basis from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursday. Students can check in at the appointment desk in the main lobby. 

Starting Jan. 12, the UCSB Student Health Service will offer an express flu shot clinic from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Fridays.

Influenza, a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses, typically starts quickly and can range from mild to severe, the CDC says.

Symptoms include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy noses, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea although it’s more common in children than adult. 

Other preventative measures promoted by health officials include washing your hands often.

Patients also are urged to seek treatment early from their primary health-care provider since anti-viral medications can help shorten bouts of influenza. 

People who are sick should stay home to avoid infecting others, public health officials say.

For more information about influenza and prevention, click here.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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