One week after Stanislaus County recorded its first influenza-related death, local health officials announced the deaths of two more residents, while the California Department of Public Health reported flu activity has reached widespread status in the state and that the strains seen this year are more severe than the previous year.
The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency reported that a 57-year-old man with underlying health issues died from the flu on Sunday and a 41-year-old man with no previous medical conditions died from the flu on Wednesday. Additionally, a child under the age of 2 two years was transferred out of the area and put into an intensive care unit because of the flu virus.
"Stanislaus County, like much of the state, is experiencing a more serious flu season compared to last year," said County Public Health Director Dr. John Walker. "The best thing people can do to protect themselves is to get vaccinated for the flu. The recent complications reported with an infant in our county further emphasize the importance of pregnant women and family members of children less than six months of age getting the vaccine."
The CDPH also received confirmation of the first report of a death associated with influenza in a child younger than 18 years of age. The death occurred in Riverside County.
"This is a tragic reminder that the flu is a serious illness for people of all ages and kills thousands of Americans each year," said Dr. Karen Smith, the state public health officer. "If you haven't been immunized yet this season, getting flu shots for you and your family now can still help protect you this winter."
Since the beginning of the influenza season, the CDPH has received reports of 14 influenza-associated deaths, including the child in Riverside. The CDPH stated this count represents a fraction of the total flu deaths statewide because only deaths in people younger than 65 are reported to the state and not all influenza-related deaths are easily attributable to influenza.
Stanislaus County recorded its first flu death on Jan. 9, when a 59-year-old man with underlying medical conditions died after being hospitalized with the flu.
The CDPH's data shows the largest increase in flu activity is happening in Southern California and in the Central Valley. The second week of January saw a 2.8 percent increase in the number of people being treated as outpatients for influenza-like illnesses, which health officials report is above the expected levels for this time of year.
Hospitals statewide have been impacted by a surge in influenza patients. Hospitalizations for pneumonia and influenza at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California during the week ending Jan. 7 reached 10.2 percent, the highest level recorded in 10 years, according to the CDPH. CDPH has also received reports of 83 influenza outbreaks, mostly in long-term care facilities, more than twice the reports received in recent years.
"We are closely monitoring the impact of influenza on health care facilities," said Smith. "Some acute care hospitals in California are full and have diverted patients to other facilities."
The influenza A strains have been more prominent this season according to lab testing compiled by the CDPH, and these strains tend to have a higher rate of contagion than B strains.
While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, flu activity is usually highest between December and February, and can last through the spring.
Prior to each flu season the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts research into which strains are the most likely to circulate among the population. For the 2016-17 flu season the vaccines are meant to protect against H1N1, H3N2, both A strains, and the B/Victoria lineage.
It takes about two weeks for the body's immune system to fully respond to the flu vaccine. For this season the CDC is only recommending people get injectable flu vaccinations. The CDC examined the effectiveness of intranasal spray vaccines during the previous flu season and found it had a vaccine effectiveness rate of 46 percent, compared to a 65 percent rate for injectable vaccines last season.
Additionally the CDC found the intranasal spray, which was a quadrivalent strain meant to protect against four strains, was 0 percent effective in protecting against one of the strains circulating last flu season.
The flu specimens that have been tested match very closely to the current vaccine strains promising protection against the flu. Along with getting immunized, other precautionary measures can be taken:
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue.
• Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
In addition, persons with chronic medical disorders should also receive the pneumococcal vaccine. This is especially important for people with diabetes, respiratory disorders (like asthma), and heart disease. The pneumococcal vaccine provides protection from the most common cause of pneumonia-related deaths for people 10 or more years of age.
Common symptoms of the flu include fever or feeling feverish, a cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, chills, fatigue and body aches. Children may also have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
"I encourage people who have an onset of fever along with a cough or sore throat to contact their medical provider immediately," Walker said.