Registered Nurse Rubina Andonian administers a flu shot to intern Colleen Thompson at the UCLA Employee Health Center on Wilshire Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM-UCLA — As the last game of league play approached, Santa Monica High School’s boys’ basketball team found itself missing one of its starting players, point guard Jeremiah Shevlin.

The senior was out for nine days, laid low by a vicious illness that kept him out of the last two games of his high school career.

“It was definitely not your common cold,” said Samohi’s head coach James Hecht.

It’s likely that the basketball player had this year’s strain of influenza, which doctors say is hitting harder and later than in previous years.

Usually, the height of flu season comes at the end of December and early January, when people start mingling again at school or work and spread the disease, said Dr. Peter Galier, former chief of staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

“It usually creeps in right after the holidays, when people re-expose each other,” he said. “We didn’t see much of anything this year until the last couple of weeks.”

Then, the floodgates opened.

By the end of January, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 804 positive tests for the flu since October 2010.

In the same time period, 10 people have died from the illness, according to the county’s publication, InfluenzaWatch.

Anecdotally, the symptoms seem more severe, Galier said.

“More people have had longer duration, and more of the muscle aches and pains,” he said.

This year’s flu is marked by more severe nose issues, as well as the typical chills, fever, muscle aches and breathing difficulties.

Some people who come in reporting the flu actually have one of two other kinds of infections that have popped up this season, including a gastrointestinal illness and a respiratory illness.

The number of upper respiratory ailments, also known as RSV, seems to have increased over last year, said Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital.

LADPH reported more RSV than flu, with 974 patients testing positive for the infection.

“We’re seeing plenty of it,” he said. “It makes it hard to breath, and patients are not as active because of this virus.”

Ghurabi estimated that the viruses took hold in November, and may last another month.

Both doctors stressed the importance of getting the flu vaccine.

Many got the message after last season’s H1N1 scare, and got the shot early.

Doctors gave out 264 flu shots at an Oct. 26 event at the Santa Monica Library, and over 500 more to patients at the hospital, wrote Marketing Director Ted Braun in an e-mail.

The availability of the flu shot at most pharmacies probably reduced the number of people who took advantage of the clinic, Braun wrote.

Braun gave a conservative estimate that the UCLA Health System has administered more than 20,000 shots in its primary care offices across the Westside.

The flu shot is still available. Check with your doctor or local pharmacy to get the vaccination.

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