Flu season made worse by air pollution

CLOVIS, Calif.

There's no word on any major incidents closer to the central San Joaquin Valley. Flu season alone can be bad news and the valley's stagnant pollution-filled air appears to be making it worse.

The hazy pollution can irritate the healthiest of people and it's made worse when we're sick. As many students and teachers around the valley head back to class, health officials are concerned flu cases will become more severe.

"The main strain that's circulating in each state is the H1N1 strain," said ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

This year, the virus started in the south and is now pushing toward California. Last week only six states had widespread flu activity, this week that number has jumped to 20.

"One of the things that could cut down on the risk is if people would stay home and keep their kids home when they're sick," Dr. Besser said.

Unique to the valley again this year the flu will be met by soot-filled air. Pollution that allergist Dr. A.M. Aminian says is making his patients miserable.

"These particles, they rub against the bronchial tubes, they make it irritated and enflamed," Dr. Aminian said. "If you catch a cold or get exposed to a cold or virus, that always makes it worse and they get sicker than usual."

Schools across the valley head back to class over the next few days. They're all prepping for flu season with tons of hand sanitizer. Of course, they'll be watching the unhealthy air quality readings.

"Their health and safety is part of their education," said Jamie Russell, a Central Unified administrator who oversees health services. "We do make sure we keep them as safe as possible. We keep them indoors when we need to and notify parents when students are I'll and need to go home."

Russell says the district encourages students and staff to stay home sick when necessary.

Doctors also say don't rush the recovery process, especially here in the valley. It can take a few weeks to get back to normal, but you risk getting sicker by exposing overexposing yourself to outdoor pollution.

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