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

A surge in late-season influenza cases has county public health officials reminding residents that vaccinations can help prevent the illness and its spread, it was announced Wednesday.

Last week, 189 lab-confirmed influenza cases were reported in the region, a figure that far exceeds the number of infections identified during the same week in previous seasons, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

Last year, seven flu cases were reported during the same week and an average of 35 infections were identified during the same period over the past five seasons.

“By this time, the influenza season should be winding down, but that is not what we are seeing this year,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer. “Cases have increased and remained steady over the past few weeks.

“Many San Diegans are getting sick with influenza week after week,” she said. “If you have not gotten vaccinated, you should do it now. Remember, it is not too late to vaccinate.”

No new flu deaths were reported in the past week. Influenza-related deaths remain at five for the 2021-22 season.

The percentage of emergency room visits for influenza last week was 3%, same as the previous week. The 189 cases compared to 160 the week before. The total lab-confirmed cases for the season to date now number 2,906, compared to 795 at the same time last season and a 11,636 prior five-year average for this time of year.

From 2020-21, the county reported 848 influenza cases and two deaths. During the 2019-20 flu season, the county reported more than 20,700 flu cases and 108 deaths.

According to the county, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot every year. It takes about two weeks for immunity to develop. The CDC also says that a person can get a flu and COVID-19 vaccination at the same time. The coronavirus vaccine does not work against influenza and vice versa, county officials said.

According to the county, the flu vaccine is especially important for people at higher risk of having serious complications from the virus, including those with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and lung disease; pregnant women; those 65 years and older; or people living with or caring for others at higher risk.

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

Information is available by calling 2-1-1 San Diego or visiting www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/immunization_branch/Vaccin e_Preventable_Diseases/Seasonal_Influenza/Flu_Vaccine_Locations.html.

The county also recommends that residents:

— wash hands thoroughly and often or use hand sanitizers;

— avoid sick people, or touching their eyes, nose, and mouth;

— clean commonly touched surfaces; and

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

–City News Service