Severe flu brings medicine shortages, packed ERs and a rising death toll in California

The flu season is typically worst around February, but can reach its height anytime from October to April. Though influenza had only only killed three Californians at this time last year, it had taken 68 lives by the end of February, according to state data.

Many California doctors, however, contend that the recent surge has been unusually severe.

“Rates of influenza are even exceeding last year, and last year was one of the worst flu seasons in the last decade,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead of the flu vaccine program for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.

Most people in California and nationwide are catching a strain of influenza known as H3N2, which the flu vaccine typically doesn’t work as well against.

National health officials say the vaccine might only be about 32% effective this year, which could be contributing to the high number of people falling ill.

H3N2 is also a particularly dangerous strain of the flu, experts say.

Dr. Greg Hendey, UCLA’s chair of emergency medicine, said people usually develop flu symptoms two to three days after they’re exposed to the virus, but are most contagious the day before symptoms develop.

“So before you even know you’re sick you’re already spreading the virus,” he said.

He recommended that people wash their hands often and avoid close contact with anyone coughing or sneezing.

Hendey said they’ve been trying to adjust staffing levels at the ER to keep up with the crowds, but there’s been an added challenge lately.

“Sometimes we don’t have our full complement of nurses because, they’re people too, they get sick,” he said. (latimes-Jan-06)

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