Yolo County reported its first flu-related death this season, prompting health officials to remind Californians there’s still time to get a flu shot.
“It’s absolutely not too late,” said Dr. Stuart Cohen, chief of the infectious diseases division for the UC Davis Health System.
Last week, he said, UC Davis lab technicians confirmed 32 new cases of flu, roughly double the number during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
“The numbers are still going up,” said Cohen. “When people ask if this is still an appropriate time to get a flu vaccine, the answer is clearly ‘Yes.’”
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The Yolo County victim was described as an unidentified middle-aged man with “significant, pre-existing medical conditions,” said Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor.
“Even though flu activity in California and much of the country is currently at relatively low levels … this death should serve to inform everyone that influenza is circulating within our county and can potentially cause very serious illness,” said Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Ron Chapman, in a statement.
Flu is a respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness, in some cases death. Every year, millions of people get sick with influenza, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands of people die from flu, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are considered especially vulnerable.
According to the most recent CDC estimates, a range of 12,000 to 56,000 individuals died each year from flu complications between 2011 and 2013.
“I don’t think people really understand there’s a mortality rate associated with influenza,” said UC Davis’ Cohen. “Even though the vaccine is not perfect, it has so little downside that the risk-benefit is always to take the vaccine. It’s not a live vaccine. Nothing bad is going to happen to you from taking it. It’s a no-brainer.”
He said flu season typically peaks in mid-January but UC Davis had cases of patients sickened or hospitalized due to flu as late as April and May last year.
This season’s flu vaccine is considered effective against three influenza strains considered to be the most common, according to the CDC. The federal body recommended against the nasal flu vaccine, which it said has not proved as effective as injections.
In Sacramento County, there have been “no reportable deaths” due to flu this season, said county spokeswoman Samantha Mott, adding that influenza deaths are only reported for those age 65 and younger. During last year’s flu season, she said, there were six flu-related deaths, all in February and March.
Numerous pharmacies and health clinics, as well as private physicians, offer flu shots, often for free. In Woodland, the Yolo County Immunization Clinic provides free flu shots every Monday afternoon to uninsured and underinsured children and adults.
The state Department of Public Health’s “Vaccine Finder” map shows locations that offer flu shots throughout California.