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Ventura County Focus / Countywide

Officials Say Local Flu Cases Declining

January 17, 1998|SCOTT STEEPLETON and HILARY E. MacGREGOR

Public health officials in Ventura County say the number of flu cases is declining, but emergency rooms from Ventura to Thousand Oaks remain busy.

Earlier this month, record numbers of patients sick with flu-related ailments had jammed hospitals across the county, and many educators were teaching to half-empty classrooms.

Although many children are still stuck at home with high fevers, respiratory illnesses and stomachaches, officials at some schools say students finally are trickling back to class.

At Balboa Middle School in Ventura, absentee rates are gradually coming down, attendance clerk Kat Estrella said.

"We're coming down in our numbers as far as how many kids are sick," Estrella said. "We came back on the 5th [of January], and little by little it's edging down."

But Darlene Cody, office manager at Lincoln Elementary, said the number of coughing, sneezing, flu-infected children has remained constant.

And what is unusual, she said, is how long children are out, and how sick they are.

"We have kids who are out for full weeks, in some cases with pneumonia and very high temperatures," Cody said. "There are lots of colds, and lots of high temperatures--that to me is a little unusual, and very scary."

County Public Health Services has administered 17,000 doses of flu vaccine since October, and with flu season expected to last through April, more shots are available, health department immunization coordinator Lin Glusac said. Shots are highly recommended for those 60 and over and those with chronic diseases.

This flu season has been little different than the last one in the number of people being treated for flu-like symptoms, Glusac said.

What is different this year is the type of flu going around, specifically Type A Sydney, which took public health officials across Southern California by surprise. "And because Southern California has the Sydney strain, we suspect we [all] have it now or we will get it," Glusac said.

Unlike the county clinics and hospitals, officials at Columbia Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks say they have seen a marked decrease in the number of flu cases.

"It seems like the epidemic has definitely peaked," said Dr. Richard Midthun, co-director of the hospital emergency department.

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