Think you’re healthy? You’re risking death by not doing this

Watch the flu spread across the United States

The activity of flu-like illnesses was at high levels in mid-January in 24 states, including California, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
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The activity of flu-like illnesses was at high levels in mid-January in 24 states, including California, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Every year, public health officials urge Americans to get a flu shot. And every year, millions of Americans come up with excuses not to do it.

I never get sick.

The vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective.

Since lots of others are getting a shot, I’m protected so I don’t need it, too.

While not exactly wise, these excuses could fly in other years. But not this flu season – and certainly not in California.

On Friday, state health officials reported that 74 people younger than 65 have died of influenza since October, up from 42 people in just one week. A year ago, the death toll was a mere 14, a testament to the threat posed by the H3N2 strain of Influenza A that has been going around this year.

The flu is so deadly this year that it has claimed the lives of physically fit people all over the country.

Katie Oxley Thomas, a 40-year-old marathon runner and mother from San Jose, died within days of being diagnosed with the flu, as did Kyler Baughman, a 21-year-old bodybuilder from Pittsburgh. Nico Mallozzi, a 10-year-old from Connecticut, was diagnosed with the flu while traveling with his hockey team in western New York. He died on his way back home.

So many people are so sick and so scared that hospitals in Southern California are running out of nurses and doctors to treat them. In the East Bay, the antiviral medication Tamiflu is in short supply. There’s also a growing shortage of beds and space for patients to wait and get medical care.

Some hospitals have had no choice but to put up tents in parking lots to create makeshift triage centers. Others have cleared out old storage rooms and turned them into emergency rooms. In Santa Cruz, one hospital has enacted visitor restrictions not seen since the days of the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic in 2009.

Those of us in Sacramento have been lucky. The flu hasn’t hit here with the same force. But hospitals are wisely preparing for the worst.

J. Douglas Kirk, the chief medical officer at UC Davis Medical Center, told The Bee on Friday: “We have identified and are creating a space that is adjacent to our emergency department where we will create a flu treatment center.” The plan is to open it on Wednesday.

It’s important to remember that we still haven’t reached peak flu season, and so some public health officials believe the worst is yet to come. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, for the first year in more than a decade, every state except for Hawaii is grappling with an outbreak.

Admittedly, this year’s vaccine is, at best, 30 percent effective. But even if it doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, it can lessen the severity and length of the illness.

So if you’re still waiting to get a flu shot, don’t. For everyone’s sake, including your own, go. No more excuses.

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