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Message from the Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County
Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH

January 30, 2018

Influenza, often referred to as “the flu,” has increased significantly in recent weeks and is now widespread in the state of California and Los Angeles County. As of January 13, 2018, there have been 96 confirmed influenza-associated deaths in Los Angeles County, which is much higher than the 30 deaths reported at the same time last year. Emergency room visits for influenza-like deaths are also up 130%. Compared to recent previous flu seasons, the Department of Public Health has received significantly more reported respiratory outbreaks in long-term care and skilled nursing facilities, as well as significantly more reported flu deaths, particularly among those older than 65 years of age. All of this points to a much earlier and serious flu season than in previous years; however, it is not too late to get vaccinated. Influenza typically peaks in January and February and can linger into the spring, so vaccination for anyone over 6 months of age is still highly recommended.

Influenza is a disease caused by a virus that can be mild in some persons, but serious in others. It is spread from person to person by a cough or sneeze. You can also get the flu by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a surface that has the virus on it. Illness often starts 2-5 days after being exposed, and usually begins suddenly. Symptoms commonly include fever, cough, sore throat, headaches, body aches, chills, runny or stuffy nose, extreme tiredness, and weakness. Some people may also have diarrhea and vomiting, but this tends to be less common in adults. Most people get better within two weeks with rest and fluids, but some may develop serious complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. Many Los Angeles County residents are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu, and some may die. That is why it is important for you and your loved ones to get the vaccine.

Get Vaccinated

The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The vaccine not only protects you from becoming ill with the flu but also prevents the possibility that you may pass it on to your family, friends, or people you work with. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated every year, especially those who are at high risk for complications. Individuals at high risk include people who are 65 years of age or older, people who have certain chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children. For the second year in a row, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only recommend the vaccine in shot form. The nasal spray form is not recommended this season due to concerns about its effectiveness.

Here are some key facts about the flu vaccine:

  • The vaccine is effective It helps protect you against several common flu strains that are in circulation during the current flu season. In most persons, the vaccine prevents you from getting the flu. In those who do get sick with the flu, the vaccine may lessen the severity of your illness. Please note that it takes up to 10 days after being vaccinated for the vaccine to be fully effective.
  • The vaccine is safe. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the site on your body where you received the shot. These side effects are usually mild and are much less serious than actually having the flu. Severe allergic reactions are very rare.
  • The vaccine does not cause the flu. The shot form of the vaccine contains dead flu viruses that do not cause flu illness. People sometimes mistake the side effects for having the flu, but this is not the case as the vaccine cannot cause influenza.

Flu vaccines are available at your doctor’s office and local pharmacies. You may want to call ahead to make sure they have the vaccine in stock. Most insurance plans fully cover flu vaccines and there is usually no out-of-pocket cost for patients who get the vaccine at their doctor’s office or at some pharmacies. If you do have health insurance, contact your regular healthcare provider or insurance carrier to confirm your flu vaccine benefits.

Public Health Centers Offer Free Vaccines

If you do not have health insurance or your provider does not offer the flu vaccine, you can get a free vaccine without an appointment during clinic hours at our public health centers located throughout the County. For more information on where to get the flu vaccine locally, please visit our website or call the LA County Information Line at 2-1-1.

Tips to Protect Yourself from the Flu and Other Respiratory Illnesses

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice) or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and face.
  • Cough into your sleeve or tissue. Make sure your tissue is properly disposed.
  • Stay home when you are sick. Individuals who are sick should stay home from school, work, hospitals, and other group settings to avoid spreading the illness to others. People can resume normal activities 24 hours after the fever goes away.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick. People who are sick with the flu can spread it to others for up to 5 to 7 days after getting sick.

People experiencing flu symptoms are urged to call their doctor or nurse hotline rather than visit an emergency department where wait times may be exceedingly long right now. Please visit the Department of Public Health’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Control webpage for more helpful information on the flu.

Previous Messages

11/21/17 - The influenza season is upon us once again. In the US, the flu season occurs during the fall and winter months with peak activity usually occurring from December through February. Text

10/03/17 - On September 19, 2017, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health declared a local outbreak of hepatitis A occurring among persons who are homeless or actively use drugs. Text

03/24/17 - Every year, World TB Day is celebrated on March 24th to commemorate the day in 1882 that Dr. Robert Koch discovered the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and identified it as the cause of the disease tuberculosis (TB). Text

02/01/17 - We are now in the middle of the 2016-2017 flu season. A sharp increase in the number of cases has been seen throughout California, and more recently in Southern California. Even though the flu season is underway, it is still not too late to get the vaccine. Text

12/23/16 - Families often travel during the holidays to visit relatives or go on a vacation out of town. These trips are great opportunities to unplug from daily life, spend quality time together with family, and share new experiences. Text

11/09/16 - Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are the most commonly reported communicable diseases and rates are rising in the United States, California and Los Angeles County (LAC). In LAC, there were nearly 75,000 STD cases reported to the Department of Public Health (DPH) in 2015. Text

8/12/16 - Climate change is a source of concern for many, especially as warmer, drier weather is observed throughout the county. This affects us in many ways. While the mild El Niño season helped fill many of California’s reservoirs, water is still a major concern. We continue to experience record-breaking temperatures. In addition, in the past few weeks, a number of fires have caused many square miles of brush and property to burn. Text

7/1/16 - In the last two months, 7 cases of invasive meningococcal disease have been reported within the Los Angeles County Public Health jurisdiction. Additional cases have been reported in surrounding jurisdictions.

6/13/16 - June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. The day is a great reminder to get tested for people who don’t know their HIV status or who may have been exposed to HIV since their last test.

4/12/16 - Alcohol is a huge continuing problem that affects many lives and can tear families apart. Alcohol is also the second leading cause of premature death and disability in Los Angeles County, contributing to more than 1000 deaths every year

2/10/16 - There has been a lot of information on Zika in the news lately. Below are some ways we can address this disease to keep our friends and family safe, and to prevent Zika transmission in our County.

1/14/16 - January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. It’s a great time to learn more about cervical cancer and ways to prevent this disease from affecting family and friends.

12/08/15 - I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season! I hope many of you are able to spend time with family and friends while enjoying and sharing your cultural traditions. To help you and your loved ones celebrate safely over the next few weeks, here are some tips and guidelines to keep in mind:

11/02/15 - November 16-22, 2015 is Get Smart Week. The goal of Get Smart Week is to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance.

10/09/15 - The 2015-2016 influenza season has started. Make sure you and your family are protected! Get your influenza vaccine now. Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that causes mild to serious illness.

09/08/15 - Prescription drugs play a critical role in treating people when they are sick or feel pain. It is also very important to properly dispose of all unused or expired medications. Unused medication can pose a major health and safety risk if left in the home.

08/10/15 - Last Thursday the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced a case of human plague in California. The patient lives in LA County and was hospitalized for the illness after a family trip to Yosemite State National Park and Stanislaus National Forest. Officials are still investigating where the individual may have contracted the disease.

07/06/15 - I am happy to report that new Ebola cases in West Africa have significantly declined due to the extraordinary efforts by healthcare professionals to care for infected individuals and reduce community transmission. The number of new weekly cases in West Africa has remained below 30 for several weeks and efforts remain strong to bring the epidemic to a closure as soon as possible.

04/22/15 - Progress continues to be made as the world responds to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Although the situation has improved greatly and the weekly number of new cases has fallen well below 100, we must remain vigilant until the number of new cases in affected countries reaches zero. Here in Los Angeles County, we continue to closely monitor individuals who travel here from affected countries and who may be at risk of developing Ebola.

03/17/15 - The world response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has decreased the number of new cases occurring there and there is hope that the epidemic can be stopped sometime this year. Here in Los Angeles County, we continue to closely monitor individuals who travel here from affected countries and who may be at risk of developing Ebola. We maintain our surveillance and actively monitor a small number of travelers each day who have

11/24/14 - Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Mali to the list of Ebola-affected countries, which continues to include Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. To date, more than 15,000 individuals have contracted Ebola during this latest epidemic and there have been 5,420 related deaths worldwide. In the United States, a second Ebola-related death occurred last Monday after Dr. Martin Salia was transferred to Nebraska Medical Center from Sierra Leone for medical care following several days of illness. His tragic passing highlights the critical importance of early intervention and care in recovery.

11/17/14 - Ebola outbreaks continue to affect Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa with some new cases reported in Mali. While the rate of new cases in Liberia and Guinea has leveled off, the rate of rise in Sierra Leone continues to accelerate. To date, approximately 14, 000 individuals have contracted Ebola during this latest epidemic and there have been 5,160 related deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue to monitor the situation and coordinate relief efforts to control the spread of infection. It is important to note that only two cases of Ebola have been exported from West Africa to other parts of the world, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the strategies that are in place to prevent spread. Those two cases are, of course, the case that was diagnosed in Dallas on September 30, and the more recent case in a physician in New York City who has recovered and been released.

11/10/14 - The Department of Public Health continues to coordinate efforts to ensure we have an effective strategy to respond to a potential case of Ebola in LA County. As part of these ongoing efforts, we met last week with the Hospital Association of Southern California and the California Association for Health Facilities. The meetings were held jointly with LA County Emergency Medical Services and provided hospitals and long-term health care facilities with an update on Ebola, our current activities, and response plans for LA County. Each meeting was an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and facilitate coordination with all health care providers who may play a role in identifying and treating an individual with Ebola.

11/4/14 - The State Health Officer from the California Department of Public Health recently issued a risk-based quarantine order for any individuals coming into California who had contact with a person confirmed with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will comply with the State’s order.
Text | Video: English | En Español

10/28/14 - Last week a doctor based in New York, who had treated patients with Ebola in Guinea, tested positive for Ebola. In Los Angeles County there are no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, and we remain prepared to respond should a case happen here.
Text | Video: English | En Español

10/21/14 - As the news continues to evolve around Ebola, I want to reassure all residents in Los Angeles County that, to date, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in Los Angeles County. This past week, we have worked diligently to update and strengthen our plans to address Ebola. We are more prepared today than we were yesterday, and we will be more prepared tomorrow than we are today.
Text | Video: English | En Español

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