Healthy Choices

Despite early fears, Sacramento County flu death toll substantially lower this season

Sacramento County officials say it’s not too late in the season to get a flu shot.
Sacramento County officials say it’s not too late in the season to get a flu shot. Sacramento Bee file

As the flu season wanes, the death toll in Sacramento County is substantially lower than last year’s, health officials say.

There have been just five county-reported fatalities from influenza this year, compared to 26 at this time in 2014. There have been 53 intensive care unit hospitalizations – less than half of the 110 reported last season.

Concerns about a flu outbreak arose in December when the season’s most prevalent strain, Influenza A H3N2, was not the strain that this year’s flu vaccine was designed to combat. Still, physicians urged the public to get the shot, stating that it could have some benefit due to overlap between the viral strains.

“As long as we have flu circulating in the community, it is not too late to get a flu vaccination,” said Kate McAuley, senior health program coordinator for the Communicable Disease and Immunization Program at the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services, in an email. “It’s especially important for pregnant women, infants over 6 months old, and people with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes to get a flu shot. The flu shot is your best protection against the flu.”

Schools have been on the lookout for influenza cases, sending home children with flu-like symptoms and educating classes about hand washing, said Terri Fox, credentialed school nurse for Sacramento City Unified School District. In the event of a confirmed flu case, the district mails out letters notifying parents. While that has not happened this year, Fox suspects that the virus was going around.

“A lot of kids have been out with cold and flu symptoms, and they come back when their fever is over,” she said. “Whenever you have a group of little kids together, you’re going to see the spread of disease.”

Much more attention was paid to influenza last year when the H1N1 strain was prevalent because it was affecting more of the healthy population, Fox said. Thanks to all of the hand washing and vaccination campaigns from that time, people are more familiar with the flu this year and less afraid of it.

“The flu is inevitable,” Fox said. “It comes every year. We know how to deal with it.”

The bigger concern this year has been measles, which has been confirmed in 119 cases in California since December 2014, according to California Department of Public Health data released Wednesday. There have not been any confirmed measles cases in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo or El Dorado counties.

“Most of the recent coordination with schools has been around monitoring for measles,” said Dr. Robert Oldham, Placer County public health officer. “But it is flu season, and our usual guidance is there for the schools. They do a pretty good job providing education to students and parents, to get sick students and staff to stay away.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee