Three flu-related deaths reported in SLO County

dsneed@thetribunenews.comFebruary 5, 2013 

Three people died in San Luis Obispo County in the past two weeks after testing positive for the flu, public health officials announced Tuesday.

The deaths of all three individuals are being investigated by the coroner to determine the exact cause of death. The individuals displayed symptoms related to influenza prior to death, and tested positive for the disease, the county Public Health Department said in a news release. Other tests are pending.

The deaths are considered “influenza associated” deaths, and influenza was likely a contributing factor to other ongoing medical issues in all three victims. The ages of the victims ranged from 38 to 90.

“Influenza can be a serious and deadly disease, especially for those with underlying medical conditions, the very young, and the very old,” stated Dr. Penny Borenstein, county health officer. “With widespread influenza activity throughout the state and county, residents are urged to protect themselves and their families by getting a flu shot.”

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center spokesman Ron Yukelson, quoting infection control nurse Claire Grantham, said the hospital has had six patients admitted within the past month due to confirmed influenza.

“Our emergency department is seeing a few patients a day with flu-like symptoms, but only about one every other day actually tests positive for influenza,” Yukelson added.

Seasonal influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age and includes protection against current circulating strains. It is particularly important for those persons at high risk of complications, which includes the very young, the very old, and persons with underlying medical conditions, such as heart and lung disease.

Federal officials estimate 200,000 people get hospitalized each year due to influenza. Of that, up to 49,000 die from complications of the illness, such as pneumonia. This year the flu seems particularly tough, said Ann McDowell, county epidemiologist.

Symptoms are fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle ache, coughing and fatigue. Most people recover within a week.

People who feel ill should stay home, get rest and drink lots of fluids, health officials advise. Call a doctor if there is no improvement in a week.

For more information about the flu, visit the CDC website at http://cdc.gov/flu/.

Tribune staff writer Tonya Strickland contributed to this report.

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