A Southern California resident is the first influenza fatality reported in the state for the 2014-2015 flu season.
According to Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health and state health officer, the death is a somber reminder that influenza can be a serious and often deadly disease.
"Flu activity is beginning to increase statewide, including reports of hospitalizations and severe disease," said Dr. Chapman. "We are early on in what could be a severe flu season, and I encourage everyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccination to do so. The influenza vaccine remains the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu."
Influenza is already widespread in 43 other states and there have been 21 pediatric influenza deaths nationwide so far this influenza season.
While February and March is typically when the flu season peaks in Stanislaus County, health officials are already reporting patients who are critically ill with influenza, including healthy young adults.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that everyone six months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine. Each year's flu vaccine is designed to protect against the flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. Traditional flu vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.
This season the predominant flu strain appears to be seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses, according to the CDC. In the past, this flu strain has caused more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. For example, H3N2 viruses were predominant during the 2012-2013, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 seasons, the three seasons with the highest mortality levels in the past decade.
Adding to the worries of a severe flu season striking the population is that health officials have been finding that approximately half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants, meaning they are viruses with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from that season's vaccine virus. This means the vaccine's ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced. During the 2007-2008 flu season, the predominant H3N2 virus was a drift variant yet the vaccine had an overall efficacy of 37 percent and 42 percent against H3N2 viruses, the CDC reported.
Chapman noted that in addition to getting vaccinated, it's important to practice good hand washing and other good health habits. People who are ill should take actions to stop the spread of germs such as:
• While sick, stay home and limit contact with others
• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based rub
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Those at highest risk of severe influenza - the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or people with other health conditions - who show flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately in order to get the most effective treatment for influenza. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.