More flu cases, deaths in Kern County

More flu cases, deaths in Kern County »Play Video
AP file

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The numbers keep rising, a sixth person in Kern County has died from the flu.

Health-care officials said these deaths likely could have been avoided with a flu shot.

On Sunday, public health officials confirmed the Kern County victims to be three men and three women between the ages of 30 and 62.

"Four of those six have been definitely, lab-confirmed as influenza, with three of them H1N1," said the county's director of disease control, Denise Smith.

Health officials across the county report a huge increase in the number of patients checking into hospitals with flu-related illnesses. Dr. Tobias Smith is an ER doctor at San Joaquin Community Hospital. He said he can't stress enough how important it is to get a flu shot this year.

"Since about Christmas, our numbers have, I would guess, increased by maybe 35-40 percent of the typical patients that we're seeing," said Smith.

The shots are especially recommended for those considered high risk. That means children over the age of 6 months, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or asthma.

"This year seems to be a lot more cases of flu. And what we're seeing is a flu that's associated with pneumonia. And I think that's what's causing more significant (number in deaths) with the disease this years,” said Smith.

There are two types of flu shots, one with an active virus and an inactive one.

"There's no active flu virus in there, it's just the injection, and the most common side effect is just the ache in the arm, from the injection itself. So, that is a big myth,” said Smith.

So without an active virus, you cannot get the flu from the shot. But, what about a shot with the live virus?

"With the live virus, you can see some mild symptoms. Some body aches and such,” said Smith, reiterating that it is a myth that the flu shot causes the flu.

Of the 41 people hospitalized so far in Kern County with flu-related illnesses, it's believed that only one had been vaccinated for the 2013-14 flu season. Health department spokeswoman Kim Rodriguez said that was for sure the case on Thursday, when 30 people had been hospitalized and the county was reporting two flu deaths. Those figures will be looked at again Monday.

Flu shots are available at most local pharmacies on a walk-in basis. They are also offered for $9 at the public health department, 1800 Mt. Vernon Ave. The clinic hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.