Health & Medicine

Flu continues its spread locally; first death recorded

Predictions of the flu’s spread in Sacramento County held fast on Friday, with health officials reporting the season’s first flu death and a doubling of patients hospitalized in intensive care units with flulike symptoms.

Influenza claimed the life of a 61-year-old woman who was hospitalized shortly after experiencing symptoms, got progressively worse and died after about two weeks, said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye. The woman, whose name was not released, was reported to be otherwise healthy and tested positive for the influenza A strain of H1N1, a version of the viral strain that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009, Kasirye said.

State and national officials have confirmed that H1N1 is the predominant strain circulating so far in the 2013-2014 season. According to an alert to physicians from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection, H1N1 tends to strike mainly young and middle-aged adults in good health.

“One of the things we have noticed is that the disease can get to people who are otherwise healthy,” Kasirye said. “This just shows it’s going to be an active season. There’s a lot more activity in other counties, too.”

The woman confirmed as the first victim of influenza in Sacramento County this season had also been in a hospital intensive care unit. The ages of the other nine people in intensive care units throughout Sacramento County are 2, 12, 36, 41, 47, 48, 53, 56 and 61. The ICU cases represent a doubling of the five cases that were reported last week.

Three strains of flu are circulating in Sacramento County, two strains of influenza A – including H1N1 – and one strain of influenza B. The widely available flu vaccine covers all three strains of the flu that have been detected. This year, for the first time, a high-dose vaccination is available and recommended for the elderly.

Flu vaccines take two weeks to become fully effective. Peak influenza activity typically occurs in late December to early February. The Sacramento County Department of Public Health recommends a flu shot once a season.

According to the CDC, the potency of the flu vaccine may last six to eight months in healthy populations, Kasirye said. This year, for the first time, a high-dose vaccine is available and recommended for the elderly. Because of the unique characteristics of the H1N1, “people who are otherwise healthy” should get a flu shot, she said, along with everyone else who has not already done so.

Kasirye noted that it is especially important for caregivers or others around vulnerable populations – such as the elderly, babies or those with chronic conditions – to get vaccinated. “They depend on us to be able to protect them,” she said.

Meanwhile, the CDC upgraded the risk of catching influenza in California from “normal” to “elevated.” In addition, the state is now experiencing regional outbreaks, rather than just local outbreaks, the CDC said. So far this season, the flu is the most widespread in Texas and southeastern states.

Influenza can strike quickly with symptoms that may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. A respiratory illness, the flu typically lasts two to seven days and may cause severe illness – or even death.

In studying nationwide vaccination patterns, the CDC found that less than half of children and adults were vaccinated by early November, with 39.5 percent of people six months or older getting a flu shot; 41.1 percent of children six months to 17 years getting vaccinated and 39 percent of adults 18 and older getting the flu shot.

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