Influenza is now “widespread” in Northern California, according to the California Department of Public Health. By at least one indicator, the number of patients presenting themselves at clinics with influenza-like symptoms, the infection is now at epidemic levels.

The agency’s updated released on Dec. 30 was based on data for the week of Dec. 18 to 24. That data showed that 2.9 percent of patient visits to outpatient clinics were for influenza-like illness, which is above expected levels for the time of year.

The 2015-16 flu season in California was the mildest in the past four years, with influenza-like illnesses generally below epidemic levels except for a few weeks in March and early April. This season, infection levels are “widespread” much earlier in the season.

The department reported that more than 20 percent of 3,888 specimens tested by laboratories were positive for influenza for the week. That was up from only 13.7 percent

The areas with the most influenza activity include the Northern California, Central California and Bay Area regions. Since the beginning of the influenza season in California, the California Department of Public Health has received reports of three influenza deaths and 29 severe influenza cases resulting in admission to intensive care units in patients 64 years old and younger.

Travel and holiday celebrations with large groups of people may factor into the increase in influenza activity. “Typically during this time of year, many people attend family events and parties. It’s also a perfect opportunity to catch the flu, especially for those who are not vaccinated,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.

In the United States, influenza activity reaches its highest levels between December and February, and may continue through May. It is not too late to get vaccinated against influenza. Health officials recommend the annual flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant women.

This year’s vaccine should offer good protection. Laboratories in California have not identified any novel flu strains this year. The flu specimens that have been tested match very closely to the current vaccine strains assuring protection against the flu.

Along with getting immunized, other precautionary measures can be taken:

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.

• Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Calaveras County Public Health Services offers immunizations, including flu vaccinations, from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m. to 12 pm. Thursdays at its offices, 700 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas. Information: 754-6460.

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