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Updated: Santa Clara County Public Health Officials Report First Flu Death

An elderly person is said to have succumbed to contagious influenza virus.

Updated: 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17: A 98-year-old woman is said to have become the first flu death in Santa Clara County, officials said Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Sara Cody, a deputy health officer for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, said officials had learned about the death through one of two flu death track systems used by local authorities.

The woman was said to have been suffering from other medical conditions, Cody said, adding that although the death is notable, there are across the country 35,000 deaths occurring every year as a result of the influenza virus.

Cody said to prevent and reduce the risk of getting the flu, it's recommended everyone get a flu shot, wash hands frequently, stay away from those who are ill and strongly encouraging those who are sick to stay home.

"There's no reason for alarm," Cody said. "The death highlights that we have a flu epidemic every winter ... and every single winter people get very sick, require hospitalization and even die ... It serves as a reminder that influenza is never to be taken lightly and everyone can take steps to prevent it."

Cody explained the flu virus can be lethal in the elderly, particularly in those with chronic medical conditions such as lung and heart conditions, or other chronic illnesses. "They're at greater risk from getting severely ill ... for example, someone who's 98 years old and is frail and gets influenza is at much greater risk to get bacterial pneumonia on top of that and it can be lethal."

In children, different kinds of influenza viruses can affect a large amount of such population, in particular young infants and toddlers. "I haven't necessarily seen that pattern this year ... but it is something we track through pediatric hospitalizations."

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The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is confirming that one death has occurred in an elderly person as a result of the contagious influenza virus.

Amy Cornell, a spokeswoman for the department, said someone over the age of 65 had died Tuesday.

A press conference was scheduled at 1 p.m. at the Health Department, 976 Lenzen Ave. in San Jose, where Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, the department's health officer, answered media questions about the death. 

Cornell said county health officials have not issued any warnings or announcements about the amount of flu cases in the area, but explained the department posts on its website a weekly report on the flu.

Asked if the flu season is worse this year in the county than in years' past, Cornell answered: "No, not at this point."

Early this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported influenza activity was continuing to increase in the United States and most of the country was experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI).

“Reports of influenza-like-illness (ILI) are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons,” according to Dr. Joe Bresee.

The CDC said it was continuing to recommend influenza vaccination and antiviral treatment when appropriate.

“While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,” Bresee said on Jan. 4.

“Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” Bresee said, who's chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division.

“And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.”

—This post will be updated as more information is released today about the death by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Jim Van Camp January 18, 2013 at 06:59 AM
I get a flu shot every year. Sometimes I still get sick so there's no guarantee that you won't have some symptoms. But I definitely don't get as sick when I get the shot. I'm surprised that only about 30% of the population get a shot
Tamra~Kathleen January 18, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I've had a flu shot the last 9 years since having my daughter. I've had flu once in that time but thankfully it was much milder and not during the regular flu season. I'm thankful the vaccine has worked so well for my family.
Brad West January 18, 2013 at 05:19 PM
Some of this info is helpful but some is very misleading. Unfort, most doctors, nurses, public official and gov't agencies dont understand this complex issue. Many reasons to not get the flu vaccine (filled with potenital problems, such as mercury, aluminum, egg, monkey or dog cells, outdated attenuated virus, etc, as well as thinking that avoiding the flu is healthy, that is, its actually good for us to clear viruses with a strong flu every few years, like a workout, we need it to be healthy). Many ways to prevent or support your health in a much safer and more balanced way such as naturopathy, chinese medince and homeopathy. It works, check out pubmed or western research, most MDs and public health officials dont know this or even consider this evidence.
Brad West January 18, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Also, much more to say, but if you want more info see work by a local doc: Randall Neustaeder: Flu, Alternative Treatments and Prevention or any of the Nutritional Healing books as well as your local Naturopathic Doctor, Chiropractor, FUnctional MD or TCM doc. Questioning authority is not only the American way it is becoming critical to our survival.
Keith Johnson March 04, 2013 at 11:40 PM
The Flu shot helps greatly. This is a proven fact. It is all good and fine that you may want to use other methods to prevent illness. Inferring that most doctors and health professionals are wrong could lead others down a slippery slope and even death. Be careful in stating that yours is only an opinion and you are not a professional. Everyone should consult their doctor and not this blog.

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