UPDATE at 12:12 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7: See our latest on how you can avoid this outbreak, here.
The influenza virus is hitting Southern California hard this new year, and it could hit even harder.
The folks at Sickweather, an app that uses social media to determine when and where illnesses are sweeping America, say the flu outbreak could peak next week. "We're talking about a week or so for it to happen if that's going to happen," said Sickweather CEO Graham Dodge.
The app's latest analysis, sent to us in a statement, says "peak flu activity" is near and that the common cold is going around too. The L.A. County Department of Public Health said in late December that three people have died of the flu in the county so far this season.
The county said this in a recent statement:
According to recent surveillance, flu activity is showing some increase within the last few weeks in Los Angeles County and may continue to increase as the season progresses. The peak of the season may occur in January or February. The predominant influenza virus types identified this year are types A H3N2, and lower levels of influenza A H1N1 and influenza B. The current vaccine remains protective against a number of the strains circulating in Los Angeles County.
We asked to speak to a county health official about the apparent outbreak but were unable to reach anyone. A spokesman referred us to the county's website, which has good info on what you can do to avoid the virus.
Sickweather's analysis found a peak of flu reports in greater L.A. in late December, but Dodge believes the worst is yet to come.
"It's been really intense" on the East Coast, he said. "The CDC [the Centers for Disease Control] announced it would be a severe flu season."
"Activity is still in the medium to high range, and we predict that we'll see at least one more spike in the high range within the next week or so," Dodge said.
"Americans should be prepared" for a severe flu season, CDC director Tom Frieden said recently. The CDC has a good primer on high-risk individuals who should be especially careful.
Google Flu Trends also predicts a peak in flu activity nationwide this month.
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One theory about the post-holidays spike in flu reports in L.A. is that people went to the East Coast to visit family in December and came back with the virus after a particularly bad outbreak there.
"L.A. people come back with these viruses," Dodge told us.