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."
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 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, will be answering questions from the media 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.”