The deadly influenza viruses sweeping across California have claimed their first two victims of this flu season in the central San Joaquin Valley, even as the death toll climbs in the state and nationwide.
Two women, both under age 65, died “very recently” from influenza-related infections, said Tammie Weyker-Adkins, a spokeswoman for the Tulare County Department of Public Health. The agency is not releasing the specific dates of the deaths and did not know whether either of the women had gotten flu shots for this season, but Weyker-Adkins said one woman had the A strain of influenza and the other had the B strain.
Weyker-Adkins said the county’s public health lab tested 21 patients for flu in December, and 13 of those tests came back positive for flu viruses – nine with the A strain and four with the B. “And in December, for severe cases – which would be someone who's admitted to ICU – we had three severe cases under age 65,” she added.
Health officials in Fresno, Kings and Madera counties reported no flu deaths so far. Deaths from influenza are not tracked by the state among people 65 or older.
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The California Department of Public Health reported Friday that the deaths of 27 people younger than 65 from early October through Dec. 30 have been attributed to influenza, including 10 in the final week of 2017. Nationwide, the influenza death toll stood at 493 victims of all ages as of Dec. 16, the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health professionals say this year’s flu season is rather unusual because two different strains of flu virus are responsible for most of the influenza illnesses. They’re urging people to take precautions to minimize their own exposure, and said it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
This year’s flu vaccine, while not as effective as some used in past years, still affords some degree of protection. “It’s better to get some level of immunity than none at all,” said Joyce Eden, emergency department director at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno.
And if people are feeling sick, they need to stay home to avoid infecting other people. Flu victims are contagious for several days before symptoms such as fever, coughing and phlegm reach their peak, Eden said.
Weyker-Adkins said people still can spread a flu virus even after symptoms have passed. “For most people, it’s natural to go back to work once you’re feeling better,” she said. “But folks need to stay home for another 24 to 48 hours after their symptoms resolve.”