Influenza virus
Influenza virus binding to a respiratory tract cell. Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The number of influenza cases in San Diego County is below average this season, which public health officials Wednesday at least partly attributed to COVID-19 measures such as social distancing and face coverings.

The county Health and Human Services Agency reported 139 lab-confirmed flu cases for the week ending Saturday, a decrease from the previous week’s 185.

“We’re seeing record numbers of COVID-19 infections in our community right now, and you don’t want to get the flu and COVID at the same time,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, county deputy public health officer. “Get vaccinated against the flu as soon as you can. Every flu case prevented makes more resources available to defeat COVID-19, and means you’re not getting sick — or worse.”

For the week ending Saturday, the agency reported that emergency department visits for influenza-like illness were 7% of all visits, up from 5% the previous week.

Total lab-confirmed cases to date now number 1,185, compared to 224 at the same time last season and a 2,820 prior five-year average during the same week.

Last season, 848 influenza cases were reported in San Diego County, including two deaths. In 2019, a total of 108 San Diegans died from influenza and more than 20,700 flu cases were reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot every year. People with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, people age 65 and older, and people who live with or care for others who are at higher risk are all more likely to get seriously sick from the flu.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop protection against the virus.

The vaccine is available at doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies and is covered by medical insurance. People with no health care coverage can get vaccinated at one of the county’s six public health centers or a local community clinic.

To find the nearest location, visit the county’s Flu Vaccine Locations page at sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/immunization_branch/Vaccine_Pr eventable_Diseases/Seasonal_Influenza/Flu_Vaccine_Locations.html or call 211.

In addition to getting vaccinated, health officials said people should also do the following:

— wash hands thoroughly and often;

— use hand sanitizers;

— avoid sick people;

— avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;

— clean commonly touched surfaces; and

— if sick, stay home and avoid contact with others.

On Wednesday, a COVID-19 testing company in Los Angeles said it had identified what it believes is the first local case of “flurona,” meaning a person who tested positive for both coronavirus and the flu. The patient was only described as a teenager. Officials with 911 COVID Testing said the teen was showing symptoms, but did not require hospitalization and went home with their parents.

Every Wednesday during flu season, the HHSA publishes the Influenza Watch weekly report, which tracks key flu indicators and summarizes influenza surveillance in the region.

–City News Service

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