Unprecedented steps taken by local hospitals because of escalating flu

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Palomar Health is giving away its remaining 150 doses of flu vaccine to anyone, age 9 through adult, who has yet to get this year's shot.

During this flu season there have already been 130 confirmed influenza cases in the Helena area, according to Lewis and Clark Public Health.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health says 36 people have died with reported influenza-like symptoms this season, up from the 13 deaths reported the same time previous year. To protect the family's privacy, the Department can only confirm that the death occurred downstate.

The number of people seeing health care professionals because of influenza-like illnesses-defined as a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with a cough or a sore throat-is almost double as many as previous year.

The flu strain now causing the most infections is H3N2, an influenza A virus that has been linked with increased hospitalizations and death, especially in young children and adults over age 65.

But in an update on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said patient traffic for flu at USA hospitals was no longer skyrocketing the way it was in December.

Even if the vaccine is not as effective for the current strain of the flu, Echols said people should still get it as a precaution. However, few people with the flu or other respiratory illnesses need to go to an emergency room.

"In an average year, there's a good match between the strain of flu that circulates in the community and what was given in the flu shot", Folk said.

Dr. Fredrick Echols, the director of the department's Communicable Disease Control Services, said the specific cause for the increase in influenza cases is unknown.

"We're seeing a tremendous number of patients and we have not seen it slow down yet", said Dr. John Goldman.

Symptoms of the flu vary but can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Because of the risks this year and new reports showing the effectiveness of antiviral medications if administered quickly, the CDC is strongly recommending that high-risk patients get antiviral drugs within two days of falling ill from the flu.

· Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

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