Californians get extra time to prepare for flu bug

All around us, we’re watching friends and relatives fall prey to head colds, and worse, this year’s fierce strain of flu.

My next-door neighbor went down before Christmas with her eight-year-old son, trapped at home until last weekend.  My office mate John Gonzales, couch-bound for five days, wobbled into work Wednesday with Kleenex, a faint voice and ragged cough.

So I called the California Department of Public Health with a question:  Are we engulfed in the same flu epidemic sweeping the East, South and Midwest?

Not quite yet, I learned. We’re in the “calm before the storm,” and that gives us a second chance to get flu shots if we haven’t already.

“Californians have a little more time to prepare,” said Dr. Carol Glaser, chief of special investigations in the department’s Division of Communicable Disease Control.  The rate of flu cases here is still much lower than, say, Boston, where the mayor on Wednesday declared a state of emergency.

Still, Glaser cautioned, “That’s not to say our numbers could flip dramatically tomorrow.”

Experts are calling 2012-13 one of the worst flu seasons of the decade, due in part to the influenza Type A strain H3N2 that is making people sicker and keeping them sick for weeks.

This state is seeing an early uptick in cases, many linked to H3N2, in Southern California and parts of the state’s northern counties.

Protection against H3N2 is included in the vaccine mix for 2012-13.  And you can get that vaccine close to home -- say, at your local pharmacy

A flu shot can take about two weeks to create an effective shield. Although it is only about 60 percent effective, experts call it an important curb against the flu’s spread.

Across the country, 41 states were reporting widespread flu activity, compared to 31 last week, according to an update issued Wednesdayby the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More people are visiting doctors with flu-like illnesses, climbing from 1.8 percent to 5.6 percent over the past four weeks, the agency reported.

The flu doesn’t just bring a runny nose, but often fever and aches throughout the body, Glaser said. 

“If you wake up and you’re sick and you have influenza, the flu shot isn’t going to do much of anything for you,” she said.

But you should still consult with your health care provider, she added.

Certain anti-viral prescription drugs may shorten the flu’s duration, especially if taken within 48 hours of getting sick.

“The sooner, the better,” Glaser said.

My colleague John visited his doctor Wednesday and left with a prescription.  When he fully recovers, he told me, he will get his flu shot.

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