This is likely cold comfort for those bogged down with sniffles, aches and fevers right now, but this year’s flu season seems to be a little milder than last year’s in San Francisco.
Fewer students were out sick last month from city public schools than they were in January 2010, and there are fewer flu cases winding up in hospitals, according to Dr. Susan Fernyak, the director of communicable disease control for the Department of Public Health.
This could mean either the flu is less virulent or it is simply milder, Fernyak said.
In the United States, the flu season typically begins in fall and becomes progressively worse through winter, peaking in February, according to the World Health Organization.
According to the organization, there are three flu viruses floating around this year — the typical influenza A and B viruses and a variant of last year’s swine flu. A vaccine inoculates against all three.
Fernyak said it is difficult to see a full picture of the season because flu cases are generally not reportable unless a person is hospitalized or killed by the disease. Last year, there was a major spike in the number of cases that tested positive for the flu in San Francisco, but that might be because the swine flu scare inspired much more testing than normal.
According to a report issued by the San Francisco Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Section last month, about 208 people were hospitalized for influenza last year, more than half of whom are believed to have had swine flu. Of those, 60 cases wound up sending the patients to the ICU or resulted in death.
Fernyak said the response to last year’s flu scare went extremely well.
“I’m very proud of how San Francisco responded to H1N1 last year,” she said. “The one area where we were really challenged was being able to provide vaccine in a timely way, and that was not driven by anything we were doing.”
5-20 Percentage of population in U.S. that gets flu each year
200,000 People hospitalized nationwide by flu each year
208 People hospitalized by the flu in San Francisco in 2009-10
23,600 Average U.S. deaths from flu each year
3 Flu viruses floating around this year, all of which a vaccine inoculates against
86 Laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths in the U.S. reported to the CDC between Oct. 3 and Feb. 5
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, San Francisco Department of Public Health