Wash your hands: Lake Tahoe South Shore hit hard by flu | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wash your hands: Lake Tahoe South Shore hit hard by flu

After months of rehearsals, opening night of South Tahoe High School's production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" was canceled, and it wasn't because of stage fright — it was because of the flu.

On Thursday director Liz Niven made the difficult decision to cancel Friday's play because 15 cast members were sick with the flu.

"In the Lake Tahoe Basin, we are seeing a higher number of flu cases than any year since 2009 when the H1N1 strain of the flu was prevalent," said Dr. Lance Orr, Barton Health's chief of staff and emergency department director. "We are diagnosing 5-10 patients per day with either influenza A or B here in the Barton Emergency Department. I know they are also seeing patients with influenza at the local urgent cares and primary care physician offices."

Orr said that quite a few flu patients have been admitted to the hospital, with some even requiring admission to the intensive care unit. However, this only accounts for roughly 5 to 10 percent of the total patients diagnosed with the flu.

There have been no deaths from the flu in El Dorado County, according to the county Public Health Department.

Though the hospitals in the region have been busy, none have resorted to the measures taken at some Southern California hospitals. Loma Linda Hospital in San Bernardino County erected a military-grade medical tent outside the emergency room for overflow flu patients.

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California has been hit hard by the Influenza A strain (H3N2), which is often a poor match for the flu vaccine and results in more hospitalizations and deaths. Last week 32 people under the age of 65 died of the flu, according to California health officials, making it the deadliest week so far this season. Since October, 74 people under the age of 65 have died from the flu, up from 14 at this time last year.

Health officials say it's unclear whether the up-tick in cases mean the flu season is peaking early or just especially bad this year. Normally the season begins in October, peaks in February and tapers off in May.

"It has started earlier and there have been more cases earlier in the season than we would normally see," said Nancy Williams, public health officer with El Dorado County. "The peak of the season usually lasts for just a few weeks so anytime now we could see a bit of a downtrend."

Though Williams said she has anecdotally heard of people contracting the flu despite getting the vaccine, she still recommends that people get the shot as long as it's available.

"Personally, if I hadn't gotten vaccinated already, I would do it."

And, she said, don't forget the basics: wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home from work or school if you're feeling ill.