The chief doctor of the Mono and Inyo counties health department this week urged Eastern Sierra residents protect themselves from what appears to be a bad wave of influenza sweeping the United States.
Dr. Richard Johnson said there have been no documented cases in the area, but the flu activity "is showing signs of increasing across the country."
"Significant increases in flu activity in the United States have occurred in the last two weeks, indicating that an early flu season is upon us," he said in a news release.
"These increases overlap with National Influenza Vaccination Week being observed from Dec 2-8. This should be a wake-up call for anyone who has put off vaccination – the time is now!"
Johnson said according to local, regional, and national public health reports, all but two states have already reported laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, and the percentage of tests turning positive is rising fast.
Influenza activity in parts of the country is already higher than all of last season, he said, with five states reporting the highest level of activity possible.
"These indicators are the highest for this time of year since the 2003-4 season, which was early and severe, especially for children," he said.
"Last season, which was mild and late, the U.S. did not reach a peak until mid-March—a month later than the usual in February."
Flu activity is most intense in the south-central and southeast part of the country right now.
However, it is showing signs of increasing across the country as well, including in California.
Thus far, there have not been any documented cases in the Eastern Sierra. Certainly there has been a lot of illness in our midst this fall, just not the real influenza.
The bad news is that most of the viruses identified so far this season in the U.S. have been Type A, which are typically associated with more severe seasons, Johnson said.
He added that if there is good news, it is that most of the viruses are well matched to the viruses in this year’s vaccine.
Johnson warned that with increasing flu activity and family and friends gathering for the holidays, now is a great time to get a flu vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against influenza disease.
This is especially important for those at highest risk of developing complications from the flu, and for those family and friends around them. This includes children under the age of 5 years, adults over 65 years of age, pregnant women, and those with long-term medical problems, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological and neurodevelopmental problems, blood disorders, obesity, kidney and liver disease, HIV/AIDS, and cancer.
The vaccine takes two weeks to work, he said, so there is still plenty of time before most holiday gatherings.
Johnson said the vaccine is plentiful this year, and is available from your healthcare provider, pharmacies, and the Health Department.
"Getting vaccinated means you have taken a giant step in protecting yourself, your family and friends, and your community from what promises to be a bad flu season," he said.