Flu season is currently at its peak in California, causing medicine shortage, packed emergency rooms, and an alarming death toll nine times higher than the last seasonal epidemic.
This year, influenza activity started increasing throughout the state as early as October 2017 with 27 recorded deaths compared with three in October 2016. Activity climbed steadily through November and unexpectedly spiked in the last weeks of December.
Since then, the epidemic continues to spread at a rapid rate affecting all regions in California.
H3N2 Viruses Predominate In California And Other States
Influenza viruses constantly mutate, making it impossible to predict which strain will predominate in a season, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also common for new types to spread each year.
A majority of patients are now infected with Influenza A or H3N2, a dangerous strain leading to hospitalizations and deaths because of its resistance to the flu vaccine. While a dose works only 32 percent effective against such type of virus, the CDC and health experts still recommend getting a flu shot.
"While strains can still mutate in individual cases and render the vaccine ineffective for some people, the flu vaccine can also help lessen the severity of illness in some of these cases," explains Dr. Robert Citronberg, infectious disease consultant at Advocate Health Care.
Quadrivalent recombinant and inactivated flu vaccines are now available for H3N2. Nasal sprays are discouraged by the CDC but only for this season.
Californians Face Shortage Of Emergency Services And Flu Medication
In two of California's most populous counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, hospitals are so packed with flu patients that ambulance vehicles are not able to immediately unload patients. This prevents them from responding to 911 calls, relates a spokesman for Riverside County's Department of Public Health in a report.
Moreover, flu medication is becoming a scarcity in local pharmacies. Commonly-prescribed drugs like oseltamivir, with the brand name Tamiflu, has become hard to find because of the insistent demand.
Los Angeles resident Caroline Bringenberg shares contracting the flu while in Denver to celebrate the holidays. She was prescribed to take Tamiflu, which, unfortunately, was unavailable in all CVS and independent pharmacies in her area.
"I've just sort of given up," Bringenberg says in the same report. "I think honestly it would make me feel worse to be in the car driving all over town, so I've just opted for ibuprofen and DayQuil."
CDC Gives Tips On Preventing The Spread Of Influenza
To stop the spread of flu viruses, the agency encourages people to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and stay at home when feeling sick.
Individuals suspecting to be infected with flu should get a medical evaluation within 48 hours from the onset of symptoms as the treatment works most effectively during this period.