As many readers can guess by the coughing and sneezing of their neighbors and sick days taken by their coworkers, Alameda County -- along with the rest of the country -- is deep in the throes of flu season.
Flu season runs through the fall and winter months, and while it so far has not been as deadly as previous years, it is still widespread throughout California. As a result, health experts are strongly encouraging residents to receive a vaccination if they have not already done so.
According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, the flu spreads through tiny wet droplets produced and distributed when an infected person coughs, sneezes or just so much as talks.
A highly contagious virus, carriers can spread the flu to others anywhere from one day before getting sick to a week after, but the highest risk of spreading the infection typically comes within the first three days of feeling sick.
"This means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Almost half of the people with the flu virus do not know that they have the flu and continue with their daily activities," county officials said in their annual flu season information update.
Signs and symptoms exhibited by the infected typically include a fever, cough, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. A sore throat and runny nose can also be common.
If someone does become infected, the county recommends that the carrier isolate themselves from others until 24 hours after their fever is gone. Children and people with weak immune systems are not only more vulnerable to the flu but tend to have a longer period of time which they are at risk of infecting others, according to county officials.
Infected persons should be on the lookout for more serious symptoms and visit a doctor if they have developed shortness of breath, severe rash, abdominal pain and sudden dizziness or confusion.
According to the California Department of Public Health, as of Jan. 5, the 2018-19 flu season has claimed 52 lives, approximately half of which were over the age of 65. Last year's flu season saw one of the most deadly seasons in decades, with an estimated 80,000 flu coded deaths nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nationally, as of Jan. 5, it is estimated that between 6.15 million and 7.28 million people in the United States have been infected, and an estimated 69,300 to 83,500 people have been hospitalized, according to the CDC's midseason flu report.
Health officials maintain that a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to avoid getting sick, highly recommending it for everyone 6 months of age and older. The nasal spray vaccine is also available in Alameda County this season, but may be more difficult to find because it was approved for use after most providers had already placed their vaccine orders for the 2018-19 season.
To find the nearest location administering flu vaccines, visit vaccinefinder.org. For more information on this flu season, visit the Alameda County Public Health Department website at www.acphd.org.