Flu activity in California is already widespread and has reached levels not normally seen until later in the season, state health officials said Friday.
Sixteen people, including two children, have died of influenza-released causes since the season began Sept. 29, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The last influenza report issued by the department in mid-November showed elevated activity of flu in every county around the state except for Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Imperial counties.
The majority of cases that resulted in hospitalizations were in patients older than 65 years old, according to the agency. Five outbreaks have been reported since the beginning of the season.
“Flu activity is starting earlier than usual in California this season,” Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health officer and director of CDPH, said in a news release Friday.
Nationally, the flu season is off to its earliest start since 2003-2004, which was particularly severe, the Associated Press reported.
But it’s too early to tell if this season will be as bad, according to Scott Epperson, who tracks influenza-like illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It really depends on what viruses are circulating. There’s not a predictable trend as far as if it’s early,” he told AP.
The best prevention for flu is to get the influenza vaccine, California and federal health officials say. Both CDC and CDPH recommend the vaccination annually for those over the age of 6 months.
“The flu shot protects you and those around you by making it less likely you’ll get sick if you’re exposed to the virus, and if you do get ill, you’ll tend to have fewer days of symptoms and they’ll be less severe,” Angell said.
Other precautions that can be taken to help avoid getting or spreading the flu include: staying away from people who are sick, and remaining home if you are sick; covering coughs and sneezes with your sleeve or a tissue; washing hands frequently or using hand sanitizer; and not touching your face.