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Weathering a Severe Flu Season

California’s flu season may be the worst in a decade — and getting the flu shot is still worthwhile.

This year’s flu struck early — and hard.

Across Kaiser Permanente Northern California, the last week of 2017 saw flu rates rise dramatically and peak with 49 percent of respiratory viral tests returning positive for flu. Of the total tests, 37.3 percent were positive for flu A, the most dominant and severe strain of the flu, and 11.4 percent were positive for flu B. In the 2016-17 flu season, flu peaked at about the same time, and 40 percent of tests were positive.

“It’s rare that there are both types of flu circulating at the same time,” explained Randy Bergen, MD, KP Northern California’s clinical lead for the Flu Vaccine Program. “This created a severe flu season, with all age groups and all of our medical centers experiencing high rates of flu.”

Even though rates of flu in Northern California are now dropping, with 39 percent of respiratory viral tests positive for flu last week, Dr. Bergen emphasized that “we are not out of the woods yet.”

Vaccine Helps Ease Flu Severity

According to the California Department of Public Health, at least 42 people in California younger than 65 have died from the flu. Of these, 70 percent were not vaccinated.

“This proves that it’s still very important to get the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Bergen. “Some protection is better than no protection. And if you happen to get the flu, having the flu vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms.”

Dr. Bergen advised that Kaiser Permanente members with any symptoms should visit The Permanente Medical Group’s online Cold and Flu Tool, which offers expert advice about how to care for yourself and your family at home and when to call Kaiser Permanente.  

Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

The first indications of a severe flu season came from the Southern Hemisphere last fall, with Australia reporting a huge increase in cases of flu.

Lisa Brill, MPH, manager of the Northern California Flu Vaccination Program, said that in Australia the flu vaccine effectiveness was 33 percent overall. However, vaccine effectiveness was 10 percent against flu A (H3N2), which is currently the most prominent and severe strain in the United States.

“For flu B, vaccine effectiveness was 57 percent,” said Brill. “We don’t yet know exactly how effective it will be here in the United States.”

Protect Yourself and Others from Getting Sick

Flu may have peaked in Northern California, but Dr. Bergen said it will continue to make people sick for 2 or more months.

“If you haven’t gotten the flu shot yet, it’s not too late. Get it now,” he said.

The following tips will also help keep you and your community flu-free:

  • Get the flu shot. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. For member vaccination locations and hours, visit the Cold and Flu Tool.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or cough or sneeze into your elbow to help prevent airborne droplets from infecting others.
  • Wash your hands frequently. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent you from spreading your illness to others.

For Kaiser Permanente member flu clinic locations and hours, go to or call 1-800-KP-FLU-11 (1-800-573-5811). Be sure to bring your Kaiser Permanente member ID card and please wear clothing that allows easy access to your upper arms.



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