Influenza ("flu") has arrived in San Benito County with 27 confirmed cases being reported by the Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital laboratory in the past two weeks. Two local long-term care facilities have also reported outbreaks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. "It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death," says the CDC website.
San Benito County health officials say this year’s flu strain is expected to be particularly impactful, with a virulent influenza strain and a lower than usual protection rate from the vaccine.
The flu spreads easily through airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes), skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs), saliva (kissing or shared drinks), and by touching a contaminated surface (doorknob or blanket).
Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue.
While health officials say the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year they also say the flu is treated primarily with rest and fluid to let the body fight the infection on its own. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers may help with symptoms and the CDC recommends the use of antiviral drugs to treat the flu in those who are considered high risk.
It is also recommended people take the following steps to help prevent the spread of the virus: make sure to wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes with sleeve or a tissue, stay home when symptomatic.
Medical attention should be sought by people who are in a high risk group, or who are experiencing worsening symptoms. Besides older adults (over 65), young children and pregnant women, those with chronic diseases should contact their doctor or go to the ER soon after developing flu symptoms. This includes those who are impacted by diabetes, hypertension, asthma, congestive heart failure, active malignancy, and immune system deficiencies.
The following are signs that a person's body may not be able to fight off the flu on its own:
- Difficulty breathing, especially in those with a history of asthma or other respiratory disease
- Chest or stomach pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Severe vomiting
- High fever (over 102)
- Unable to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated
With sick children, look for additional signs and seek emergency medical treatment if:
- lips or skin appear bluish
- can’t wake up or interact
- have a high fever with a rash
It is also recommended to go to the doctor or the ER if the symptoms are returning after appearing to be getting better and if the fever and cough comes back worse than before.
For more information about influenza, contact Public Health Services at (831) 637-5367.