A surge in influenza cases in San Diego County has prompted an alert from health officials to help prevent school-based outbreaks.
The region is experiencing extremely heavy flu activity this winter, and county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten has issued prevention reminders and reporting guidelines for schools. The recent surge in influenza cases in also coincides with increased reports of outbreaks in local institutional settings, and as students, teachers, and staff return to school from winter break the advisory from health officials is especially timely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that this influenza season may be severe. While there have been no local school-based outbreaks so far this season, outbreaks still can occur and they can be prevented by vaccination and good hygiene, Wooten said.
It is not too late to receive the flu vaccine, and schools are advised to promote the flu vaccine to staff members, students, and families. Peak influenza activity often persists into late winter to early spring.
The seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for most everyone 6 months of age and older, unless determined otherwise by a medical provider. It is important to note that all of the strains for which the flu vaccine provide protection are currently causing illness in the county, Wooten said. The vaccine is the best defense to protect from illness, and can help prevent severe complications and hospitalization. The flu vaccine cannot make a person sick, and the most common side effects are soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site.
Wooten said there are several everyday prevention steps that students, parents, and school employees should take:
Practicing respiratory etiquette, including covering one's mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or to cough into one's elbow.
Practicing good hand hygiene, which means washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
Routinely cleaning surfaces that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, any hands-on learning objects, faucet handles, and phones.
Keeping students and staff who are ill at home, including remaining at home until at least 24 hours after a fever subsides.
Completing any course of prescribed antiviral medication.
Many respiratory infections can spread from person-to-person and cause symptoms similar to the flu, and taking those prevention steps also may help reduce the spread of other viruses and bacteria.
For more information on the county's influenza situation, visit the Health and Human Services Agency's Influenza page.