MARK BOSTER / Los Angeles Times

Downey Regional Medical Center nurse Connie Meinke administers a flu shot. The hospital is on full flu alert: Security officers at entrances instruct everyone to use hand sanitizer and distribute masks to people who are coughing.

Demand for flu shots spikes in Sacramento

Published: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 4:37 pm

As Sacramento braces for a full onslaught of the flu virus that's famously gripped the rest of the nation, public health experts are seeing a marked spike in demand for flu shots.

In some cases, the sudden popularity of the influenza vaccine – possibly attributable to national news stories about the flu's surge elsewhere in the United States – is leaving spot shortages in pockets of Sacramento, local officials said.

Shortages are brief, however, and are quickly filled by new orders of the vaccine, officials said, which is plentiful enough nationwide to fill any unexpected supply gaps.

Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons is an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento and Roseville who has witnessed many a flu season here.

Just last week, Fitzgibbons said, Kaiser facilities in Sacramento reopened seven flu clinics to provide access to several hundred members urgently seeking vaccinations.

"We've seen a tremendous demand, especially in the past week or two – and that's what prompted Kaiser to reopen our flu clinics," she said. "We try to encourage more people to obtain immunizations in years like this when the flu seems more serious."

Indeed, California's flu season status has been upgraded to "widespread" from "regional," based on evidence of the flu's spread statewide in the first two weeks of January.

The category of "widespread" is the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's highest ranking, indicating a state is highly vulnerable to the spread of seasonal flu viruses. California joins 46 other states in sharing this designation.

Dr. Gil Chavez, of the California Department of Public Health, announced Friday that the state so far has recorded five deaths of patients under 65 years of age from complications of the flu. Sacramento has had two deaths, county officials have said, one an elderly patient and the other under 65.

The latest fatality occurred in Southern California's Inland Empire, Chavez said.

He announced the spot shortages of the flu vaccine, but swiftly reassured the public that stocks will be replenished quickly.

Dr. Lou Ann Cummings, the Sutter County public health officer, echoed the trend that's occurring in Sacramento County.

"In the past week and a half," Cummings said, "we have had anecdotal reports that a lot of people are going and getting their flu vaccine."

The trend gives Cummings hope, she said, that the community as a whole – not just individuals – will reach a level of protection against the flu virus.

In the meantime, she joined other public health officials in continuing to push flu shots. "It's worth phoning ahead to see if your pharmacy still has (the vaccine) – or when they'll have it," Cummings said.

The expected peak of the flu season is late January or in February, Fitzgibbons said.

The flu vaccine contains inactivated or extinguished viruses and is recommended for anyone over 6 months of age, with the exception of people with chronic health conditions.

Flu shots are good for only one year. Even after getting vaccinated, an individual is vulnerable to catching the virus for up to 2.5 weeks before immunity kicks in.

The state Department of Public Health tested three specimens of the influenza virus strain and found all three matched with components of the 2012-13 vaccine.

Of 2,947 specimens tested statewide in the second week of January, the greatest portion – 85.9 percent – were influenza A, the most severe type in the vaccine cocktail, the Public Health Department said.

In addition, public health records show that a respiratory virus separate from the flu peaked the last week of December and has been trending downward since then.

Fitzgibbons said, however, that it's typical this year for a lingering cough to stick around for a few weeks after the respiratory virus has cleared up.

One study in the journal Annals of Family Medicine reviewed 19 published medical studies and showed that the mean duration of any cough is 17.8 days – with a range of 15.33 to 28.6 days.

FLU TIPS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests:

1. Get an annual flu vaccine shot.

2. Limit contact with sick people, or with others if you are sick.

3. Take flu anti- viral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Cynthia H. Craft



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