A 98-year-old woman is said to have become the first flu death in Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Public Health Department oficials announced Thursday afternoon.
Dr. Sara Cody, a health deputy for the department, said officials had learned about the death through one of two flu death track systems used by local authorities.
The woman was 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."
Amy Cornell, a spokeswoman for the department, said someone over the age of 65 had died Tuesday.
A press conference on Thursday at the Health Department in San Jose, where Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, the department's health officer, addressed questions from media about the death.
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.
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