Six people, all 65 or older, have died from the flu in Santa Barbara County in the past two weeks, according to the county Public Health Department.
By comparison, three people died during the entire flu season last year.
“The current numbers exceed where we were at this time during the 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic. What we are seeing is unprecedented compared to the last 10 years of influenza seasons,” said Dr. Charity Dean, Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer.
The predominant strain this season is H3N2, which causes more severe disease, more hospitalizations and more deaths, officials said.
However, most people with the flu will have more moderate symptoms and will recover within about a week without medical treatment, by resting and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
To prevent the spread of flu and preserve more time care for patients who are experiencing extreme illness and life-threatening conditions, Cottage Hospital is asking people to avoid coming to the emergency department unless they are suffering from serious symptoms or complications.
A Cottage spokesman said the emergency department may have long wait times due to the high volume of patients.
The risk of life-threatening flu is especially great for the very young and the elderly. Pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions are also at higher risk.
People in a high-risk group are advised to call their primary-care doctor or clinic at the first sign of flu symptoms to determine whether they might benefit from antiviral medication that can shorten the duration and severity of the flu. It is important to consult a pediatrician before providing any medication to young children.
Severe flu symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness and confusion
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
- Bluish skin
For children, additional symptoms of serious flu include:
- Breathing fast
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or interacting
- Irritable to the point of not wanting to be touched or held
- Not shedding tears when crying, having significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
Cottage officials also say it is not too late to get a flu shot, which is the best protection against the flu.
Other precautions include washing your hands often with soap and water; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and avoiding contact with sick people.
People who become sick should stay home from work and school to avoid infecting others. People with flu-like symptoms should not enter the hospital if they are not in need of emergency care.
Find more information on preventing and treating flu at www.cdc.gov/flu