Experts help public combat flu in first installment of USC VHH ‘Doc Talk’ series


With one of the nastiest flu seasons in recent history gaining steam, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital experts shared some free tips Wednesday on how to recognize the symptoms of influenza and what to do if you think you’ve been hit.

In the first of a series of free lunchtime “Doc Talks” being held at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA every second Wednesday through November, Mary Virgallito, director of patient safety for the local hospital, discussed the different strains of influenza and how the virus can be spread from up to 6 feet away.

“It’s almost like Sea World — you have a splash zone,” Virgallito said. “When I talk I’m actually shooting out saliva, and when we sneeze or cough it spreads out even more.”

The best way to prevent infection is to keep hands and nearby surfaces clean and refrain from touching one’s nose or mouth with an unclean hand.

Virgallito explained it’s still recommended people get a flu shot this season, even though unpublished final estimates from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention place the effectiveness of last year’s vaccine at 39%, and speculation is spreading that this year’s vaccine could be even less of a match with active viruses.

“If there was a big change in the virus since they took the proteins to make the vaccine there could be a mismatch,” she said. “But your vaccine actually teaches your immune system what the virus looks like, so if you’ve had a vaccine, even if it doesn’t match, [the immune system] pretty much knows what it’s looking for.”

Jessica Thomas, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital’s emergency department clinical director, explained at what point people who think they’re sick with the flu should stay home and rest, and when they should seek help from a doctor or a hospital. If serious symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting persist more than 24 hours, medical help may be in order.

“You know your body and how your body behaves when it’s sick or well,” Thomas advised. “So if you have a fever, and you’ve had it for longer than 24 hours, that’s a trigger.”

In the audience was Montrose resident Harriet Hecht. A retired nurse, she knows how to prevent the spread of flu and cold viruses but thought a refresher couldn’t hurt.

“This will remind me to wash my hands more often and use disinfectant,” said Hecht, who got her flu shot in October. “Also, it reminds me to just take care of myself and rest more.”

FYI: Next month’s talk, “Heart Disease and Heart Health,” takes place Feb. 14. For more, visit or call (818) 583-4732.

Twitter: @SaraCardine