Bracing for the worst flu season in decades


‘This is not something to mess with,’ says Mono County health officer

The warning from the county’s top health official is stark.

“It’s coming, it’s inevitable, and it’s going to be a very bad season for the flu,” said Dr. Rick Johnson, the Mono County Public Health Officer. “We have already had six confirmed flu cases since the beginning of this year, and that means it’s already here.”

The Eastern Sierra caught a break during the holidays, when the current influenza outbreak plaguing much of the rest of the country was still in its infancy in Southern California.

“It appears that levels of influenza in Southern California were still low during the recent two-week holiday period, sparing us a large influx of sick visitors,” Johnson said,  “but that is about to change.”

The most efficient spreader of the virus—kindergarten—is now back in session, he said.

Living in seemingly isolated Mono County is no protection. Mammoth is the hub of the tens of thousands of visitors.

“Even if they are feeling a bit sick, since they paid for their reservations, people will still come,’ Johnson said.

Johnson’s job is to alert locals about everything from hantavirus to whooping cough to radioactive fallout—or lack thereof—from the earthquake in Japan. But this flu virus has even Johnson a bit unsettled.

He said there was a recent case of a young, healthy 17-year-old dying of this particular strain of flu and there have been other cases as well, of healthy people not surviving the flu.

“A number of otherwise healthy teenagers and young adults have died within 48 hours of becoming ill,” he said.

The best protection is a flu shot and Johnson said this year’s vaccine is a good match for the current strain of influenza.

“There is plenty of the vaccine and the flu season doesn’t peak until mid-February, so you still have time to tap the benefits of this vaccine,” he said.

The vaccine doesn’t take effect for two weeks, so the sooner, the better, he said. The flu shot is offered at Vons and other pharmacies in the county and at the health department and at medical clinics and is not expensive.

It's also critical that you wash your hands frequently and to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth at all times, he said. The virus is most often contracted from things like door knobs, grocery cart handles, etc., where it can remain active and contagious for eight hours after it is deposited. Its main route of transmission into the body is through the nose, mouth and eyes. Being coughed on by a sick person is another possibility, but it is much easier to see and avoid than door knobs and other public areas that people do not consider as much of a threat. Masks are ineffective and will not keep you from getting the flu, he said.

How to avoid the flu

• While the influenza vaccine is not perfect, and needs to be given every year, it is the best protection people have against acquiring the infection. Since the “flu season” has just begun locally, there is still time to be vaccinated. Contact your healthcare provider, pharmacy, or health department.

• Wash your hands often, and keep them away from your mouth, nose, and eyes.

• If you get sick, cover your cough, stay home, drink plenty of fluids, and get plenty of rest. Contact your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

• Remember, you do not catch a cold or the flu from being out in the cold—you must be around someone who gives it to you. So, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, dress warmly, and get plenty of exercise while you enjoy the beautiful outdoors.