Swine flu spreading rapidly in California, health officials say

October 16, 2009 § 3 Comments

The swine flu virus is spreading rapidly throughout California, public health officials said today, citing physician reports of higher-than-normal flu illnesses for this time of year.

More than 5% of patients coming into doctor’s offices are presenting flu-like symptoms, which is much higher than the usual 2%, according to an estimate based on about 50 physicians across California who monitor flu activity for the state.

“We are seeing a continued ramp-up of the virus activity,” Dr. Mark Horton, California’s public health officer, said at a news conference today. “That is very unusual for this time of year.”

Horton said he considered the flu outbreak to be consistent with what is seen during a “moderately severe seasonal flu outbreak.” More than half of local health departments throughout the state are seeing active flu outbreaks, he said.

The H1N1 flu strain is by far the predominant flu strain circulating in California; more than 95% of the flu samples the state has received are testing positive for that strain.

Since this spring, more than 3,000 people in California have been hospitalized with the H1N1 flu strain, and 219 people have died, Horton said. Most of those who had died had underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic lung disease, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, but some were otherwise healthy.

Complications of the H1N1 flu include pneumonia and bronchitis, and can worsen preexisting medical problems, like asthma and congestive heart failure. Most people who get the flu can recover in less than two weeks without seeing a doctor or taking antiviral drugs.

California received its first shipment of 400,000 doses of nasal spray swine flu vaccine last week, and this week received 150,000 additional nasal spray doses and 200,000 injectable doses. Last week’s vaccine supply was shipped to private clinicians, and a portion of this week’s shipment is to be delivered to public health departments.

The swine flu doses are being directed initially to those considered at higher risk for the virus, including pregnant women, healthcare workers, adults between ages 25 and 64 who have underlying medical conditions, children older than 6 months and young adults up to age 24. Because infants younger than 6 months cannot get the vaccine, their caregivers and parents are asked to get the inoculation.

The state is continuing to see somewhat larger percentages of illnesses in the younger group, while senior citizens are least likely to be infected.

The public is also being asked to get a separate, regular seasonal flu shot.

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