Health & Medicine

Flu activity increases in Sacramento County as state enters peak flu season

Sacramento County is seeing an “uptick” in flu cases as California enters peak flu season, according to county health officials.

As of Jan. 3, there has been one influenza-related death and four hospitalizations in Sacramento County. Meanwhile, cases of the flu are ramping up in California, one of 36 states experiencing “widespread” flu activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, 17 people 65 years old or younger have died from influenza-related complications, according to the California Department of Public Health. Influenza-related deaths among people 65 and older are not tracked, so the actual number of deaths may be greater, said Jorge De La Cruz, CDPH spokesman.

Hospitalizations are also up from last year, with 58 ICU hospital stays for influenza symptoms compared to 29 during the 2016-17 flu season.

Dr. Stuart Cohen, chief of infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, said he thinks the “bump in flu” this year is partly because people are in close proximity to each other during the holidays, making it easier to catch the virus.

“Cases go up when people are mashed together, and all the handshaking that goes on during the holidays increases the risk,” he said.

Cohen also said he thinks fewer people got vaccinated this flu season, and now they’re spreading the virus.

“There isn’t really a mismatch between the (H3N2) strain that’s going around and the vaccine, at least not in California,” he said. “The vaccine’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.”

The H3N2 strain is more common among older adults and children, Cohen said.

Flu symptoms include coughing, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and fever. The CDC and health experts say it is not too late in the season to get a flu shot.

But it’s still too soon to tell whether this will be a severe flu season, said Cohen.

“Usually the first couple weeks in January are the highest flu weeks normally, but the number of cases has been jumping significantly,” he said. “I’m not thinking this is atypical. We need a couple more weeks to tell.”

Flu season usually spans from October to May, peaking in January and February, Cohen said.

The increased flu activity in California is in line with a national trend. According to the CDC weekly report on flu activity, hospitalizations and outpatient visits for flu symptoms are showing signs of outpacing the last five prior flu seasons.

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM