Four influenza-related deaths have been reported in Siskiyou County, and health professionals are continuing to urge anyone over six months of age to protect themselves with the flu vaccine.

Four influenza-related deaths have been reported in Siskiyou County, and health professionals are continuing to urge anyone over six months of age to protect themselves with the flu vaccine. “We haven’t seen an illness like this in a very long time,” said Sharon Piva, who is in charge of infection control at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta. She said it’s not too late to reap the benefits of a flu shot, and the currently predominant H1N1 strain is contained in this season’s vaccine. This particular strain of swine flu is hitting “younger adults,” (those in their 30s and 40s) particularly hard, she said, because often that population “thinks it’s invincible” and doesn’t always get their flu shot. Because swine flu hit the country in the 1960s, older adults may have a bit of natural immunity to this strain, she added. The Siskiyou County Health and Services Agency reports that two men, ages 55 and 65, died this week after being hospitalized for influenza-related viruses. On Friday, a 38 year old man died and the week before a 60 year old male died, Perlman said. The names of the patients will not be released. “Flu, including the H1N1 strain, is present throughout our community. The vast majority of flu cases experience mild or moderate illness and recover. Tragically, in these cases, these individuals did not recover.” As of Friday, seven influenza-related deaths in people under the age of 65 were reported statewide, according to a press release from California’s Public Health Director Dr. Ron Chapman. Twenty-eight more deaths are currently under investigation. Normally, those who die from the flu are either very young or very old, said pathologist Dan Purtzer, who works at both Mercy Mt. Shasta and at Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka. This particular strain of H1N1 is unusual because it is also hitting young adults with no underlying medical conditions hard. Piva said Mercy Mt. Shasta didn’t see any flu-related cases until Dec. 15. Since then, there have been 72 cases seen in the emergency room, 12 of which were confirmed and tested positive for H1N1. Eight people have been admitted to the hospital for influenza, and of those, five were transferred to Mercy Redding, she said. All eight of the people admitted had not received their flu shot, Piva said. Sherie Ambrose, Mercy’s Vice President of Patient Services, said Mercy Mt. Shasta is “more than capable” of caring for cases of influenza, but they are prepared to “take the next steps” and transfer more serious cases to Mercy Redding, where they can receive a higher level of care. Not all the flu “There’s a whole slew of different viruses going around right now,” said Kathy Collins, Dr. David Holst’s medical assistant at Siskiyou Medical Group in Mount Shasta, including upper respiratory viruses like bronchitis, as well as secondary pneumonia and sinus infections that don’t come with the high fevers of influenza. There’s also a gastrointestinal virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, she said. Many people mistake stomach viruses for the flu, but they are different, Collins pointed out. Collins said they’ve seen “a little bit” of the flu, but H1N1 cases have been so intense that those suffering from it have been going straight to the emergency room. At Siskiyou Medical Group in Weed, Christie Wingfield said they’ve been busy with respiratory complaints including coughs, chest congestion and wheezing, but not a lot of gastrointestinal illnesses. She said this year’s flu season is much more active than last year. It’s not too late The peak of the flu season is usually late January through February, so there is still time to benefit from a flu vaccine, Perlman said. Purtzer debunked the myth that people can get the flu from the flu shot. “You can’t get the flu, but you can have a reaction,” he said. Most commonly, that means local soreness at the site of the injection, though it can also include muscle weakness or soreness. These symptoms can be combatted by taking a dose of Tylenol for a few days after receiving the vaccination. Though it’s not guaranteed you won’t get the flu if you get the vaccine, a flu shot ensures you’ll have a less intense illness, and your chance of dying from influenza is “very low,” he said. You’ve got the flu The general symptoms of influenza are fever (100 degrees or greater), headache, runny or stuffy nose, cough, fatigue and sore throat. “But what really lets you know you’ve got the flu are the muscle aches,” said Purtzer. “Aches in the whole body, but most of all, a horrible back ache... if you’ve got that, you’ve got influenza.” Some patients, mostly children, also get nausea and vomiting with H1N1, Purtzer said. Purtzer said it is important for those experiencing flu symptoms to stay home so the illness isn’t spread. However, people are most infectious two or three days before symptoms begin, so it’s important to wash your hands frequently and cover your cough. If you find yourself sick, get plenty of rest, take acetaminophen and drink plenty of fluids, Purtzer said. The flu virus kills by inducing pneumonia, he said, though more commonly a secondary pneumonia is what kills people, caused by secretions which the body has trouble clearing from the lungs. Prescription drugs such as Tamiflu, which stop the flu virus from reproducing, can be effective in lessening the severity or length of the flu, but the timing can be difficult, Purtzer said. “By the time people come in, it may already be too late for Tamiflu to stop it,” he said. Those with compromised immune systems, including the elderly, people taking chemotherapy, people with HIV, Hepatitis C or lung diseases should limit their exposure to large crowds, Purtzer said. Though he admitted to being scared of needles, Purtzer said he always gets his flu shot. “I don’t want to die of something as silly as influenza,” he said. “You can get hit by a drunk driver... you have no control over that. But you do have control over getting the flu,” he said. Where to get a flu shot Some local doctor’s offices are offering flu vaccine, but many are not. Rite Aid in Mount Shasta offers flu vaccinations for people aged five years and older during hours of pharmacy operation. Most insurances cover the vaccine. Siskiyou County Public Health will be offering the following clinics to those age six months and older for $9 per vaccination on a walk-in basis. No appointment is necessary. In Mount Shasta at the Public Health Department’s new location, 1107 Ream Avenue, on Thursday, Jan. 23 from 9 a.m. to noon. Vaccinations will also be offered at the Yreka Public Health Department, 810 S. Main Street, on the following days: January 13 – 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. January 14 – 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. January 15 – 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. January 16 – 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. January 17 – 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call the Public Health Department at 841-2134.