An unforeseen mutation of the common flu is spreading through San Luis Obispo county.
“This season is unusual in that there are two predominantly circulating strains. In our county as well, there are three strains,” San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department Epidemiologist Ann McDowell said.
The vast majority of flu cases confirmed in the county this winter have been the same flu strain that was predominant in 2009. This strain is covered in the flu vaccine.
However, McDowell said the unique strain of influenza type A is not a good match for this year’s flu vaccine, leaving vaccinated individuals virtually unprotected.
On Tuesday, Jan 14, the Public Health Department announced the county’s first flu-related death of the season. The patient was a 60-year-old male with a type A flu, but the exact strain and his vaccination status against the disease are unknown. He had several underlying conditions that make people more vulnerable to severe complications of influenza, according to the Public Health Department.
Cal Poly students are not the most susceptible to such severe cases, McDowell said. Hospitalization for the flu is more common for elderly and elementary ages.
“The immune system in the young is naive — it hasn’t seen a lot of things yet,” Cal Poly Health and Wellbeing Medical Director Aaron Baker said. “[Flu season is dangerous for] the old, because their immune systems are tired — it’s seen a bunch of things.”
If a person already had the flu this season and never got the flu shot, McDowell said it’s never too late to get vaccinated. Flu vaccinations are free to enrolled students, according to Baker.
Both McDowell and Baker suggest the best ways to prevent contracting the flu is to get the flu vaccine, wash your hands often, and if you feel sick, stay home.
“It’s nice to share, but not the flu,” Baker said.
There have been no reports of serious cases in Cal Poly students this year.