LOS ANGELES - At least three people died from flu in the past two weeks, marking the first deaths of the 2010-11 influenza season, L.A. County public health officials have announced.In an average flu season, which lasts from fall to late spring, flu claims an estimated 1,000 deaths in L.A. County, health officials said. "This is an unfortunate reminder that flu is a serious, potentially deadly illness that is also vaccine-preventable," said Jonathan Fielding, MD, director of public health for Los Angeles County. "We're approaching the time of year when we typically see peak numbers of flu cases. There is still time to get a flu shot or the flu mist nasal spray vaccine and to protect yourself, your loved ones and those around you from this illness. The flu season does not end with the winter holidays, and flu can circulate as late as May." The three people who died were a 48-year-old man, a 29-year-old woman, and a 4-year-old boy. The adults were both obese, which is a newly-described risk factor for complications from influenza, health officials said. According to county officials, the three died from a vaccine-preventable strain of the flu. It was not immediately known whether any of them had received a flu vaccination. In an unrelated incident, public health officials also recently investigated an outbreak of what they say appears to have been flu at a local school. More than 50 students fell sick with flu-like symptoms, three of whom tested positive for the flu. "We reiterate that if you or your child is sick, stay home," Fielding said. "Some individuals who get sick are able to treat themselves at home with over-the-counter medications, drinking plenty of fluids and resting. Others may develop severe symptoms requiring hospitalization, or may develop complications such as pneumonia." Health officials encouraged residents to contact their regular doctor for recommended vaccinations. This season's flu vaccine protects against H1N1, H3N2 and an influenza B strain. Supermarkets, pharmacies and community clinics throughout the county are offering seasonal flu vaccine for a low fee. While the influenza vaccine is now recommended for everyone (except infants under six months of age), certain groups should be vaccinated because they are at greater risk of developing complications from the flu or because they live with or care for others who are at greater risk of developing complications. These groups include pregnant women; children younger than five, adults age 50 and older; people of any age with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes; people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities; people who live with or care for those at-risk for complications from the flu, including healthcare and daycare workers. Influenza accounts for up to 200,000 hospitalizations and an average of 24,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, headache and muscle ache within the first three to five days of illness. The flu is extremely contagious and everyone is urged to practice basic hygiene to help reduce the chances of catching either the flu or other illnesses. These healthy habits include washing your hands frequently, especially after using the restroom and before and after eating; covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze; not touching your nose, mouth or eyes to prevent the spread of germs; staying home from work or school when sick. For information on low-cost flu vaccines, visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov or call 211 from any landline or cell phone in the county.
********** Published: January 13, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 39