Flu vaccine
A nurse prepares a shot of flu vaccine. Courtesy County News Center

According to San Diego County public health officials, more than 1,650 San Diegans have been diagnosed with a lab-confirmed case of influenza this season.

The 1,664 cases reported locally since July 1 are more than seven times higher than the 217 cases reported at the same time last year during the 2021-22 flu season, with many pandemic restrictions still in place.

But with many more people having returned to offices and social activities since the pandemic has eased, officials on Thursday urged residents to familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms of the flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and to get a flu shot to protect themselves and their family members.

While the county monitors flu activity year-round, flu season is typically October to March each year.

“We have reason to believe that respiratory illnesses could be extremely disruptive in the region this year for businesses, hospitals and people’s lives,” said Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, the county’s public health officer. “San Diegans must do their part to prevent the spread of these illnesses.

“I want to remind San Diegans to use precautions we know are effective in protecting against illness, including the flu,” she said.

At Patrick Henry High School, hundreds of students called in sick last week with an unknown respiratory illness. Tim McClain, a county spokesman, said that there was no specific update on the cause of the illness, but explained that that was fairly standard.

“Most cases of flu-like illness aren’t tested, even in the COVID era,” he said. “Flu is usually a clinical diagnosis; testing is typically done to evaluate for other causes when another diagnosis is suspected or when the right treatment isn’t clear.”

Respiratory illnesses historically increase during fall and winter as many people move gatherings indoors, but flu activity typically does not peak until December or January.

COVID-19 and influenza are both spread from person-to-person, especially indoors and in crowded places. Symptoms for both viruses include fever, headache and muscle and joint pain, as well as a sore throat and coughing.

Since symptoms for both the flu and COVID are similar, but treatment varies, county officials said testing is the best tool to help sick individuals determine a plan of action.

“Get tested for COVID-19 and the flu when you develop respiratory symptoms and stay away from others if you are sick,” Wooten said. “Protect yourself and your loved ones. Seek medical treatment if your symptoms worsen or if you have an underlying condition that puts you at an increased risk of severe outcomes from the flu or COVID.”

During the 2021-2022 flu season, 4,192 flu cases were reported and eight San Diegans died. During the 2020-2021 flu season – when most businesses, schools and other venues were shuttered due to COVID, a total of just 848 influenza cases were reported in San Diego, including two deaths.

– City News Service