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Flu vaccine especially effective this year, state health officials say [Updated]

February 15, 2011 | 10:41 am

The flu is spreading statewide, but this year’s vaccine appears to be exceptionally effective in preventing infections, state health officials said Tuesday.

There were 597 flu cases reported statewide as of the first week of February, about 21% of those tested, up from 472 cases the previous week, about 16% of those tested, according to the most recent figures available from the California Department of Public Health.

But reports of flu-like illness actually decreased by 2% for the same week, according to the department, which still considers flu activity to have remained low.

[Update 1:10 p.m.: The figures released are based on reports from 79 healthcare providers and laboratories statewide. State officials said it is difficult to track total flu cases because providers are not required to report such cases to the state.]

State health officials credit improved flu vaccines with limiting the spread of the disease this season.

“There is a near-perfect match between the influenza that is circulating in our communities and the strains of influenza in the influenza vaccination,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. “There’s plenty of vaccine and given the good match between the vaccine and strains in the community, it’s very likely that if you get vaccinated, you will be influenza-free.”

In a video posted this week, Chavez urged that everyone 6 months of age and older be given vaccines.

“Flu has the potential to cause serious illness and even death,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the department. “I urge all Californians to get a flu shot and take other preventive measures to reduce exposure to influenza.”

So far this year, the number of flu cases reported statewide falls within expected levels, department officials said. California flu outbreaks are considered “regional” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning there have been outbreaks in at least two regions, but less than half of the state.

Nationwide, more than 225,000 people are hospitalized and more than 35,000 die of the flu each year, according to state health officials.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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