A 98-year-old woman is reported to be the first victim of this year's influenza outbreak in Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health has announced.
Department spokeswoman Amy Cornell confirmed the death, which occurred Jan. 15, but little information has been made public, such as the city in which the woman lived.
Dr. Sara Cody, a physician with the Department of Public Health, said the woman had underlying health problems. The woman died earlier this month and had both pneumonia and influenza, she said.
Influenza is most deadly among people older than age 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Cody said most counties don't track influenza in patients older than 65 because it is more common for older patients to die from pneumonia or influenza. But deaths among those persons under 65 is often reported because they are somewhat unusual.
It is also recommended to report persons who are in the intensive-care unit to get a snapshot of the flu trend. Santa Clara County is one of 122 jurisdictions nationwide that take part in CDC tracking, she said.
Health authorities and the CDC said this flu season has not yet peaked, and typically does so in February or March.
This flu season is expected to be moderate to severe. Officials are concerned because the season started in early January, and more hospitalizations are being reported earlier than in recent years. Twenty children have died from influenza-related illnesses nationwide through Jan. 5, according to the CDC.
This year's dominant strain, Influenza A (H3N2), is one of three covered in the flu vaccination, health authorities said. County health officials strongly recommend that everyone gets vaccinated to decrease their chances of contracting flu or to lessen its effects. It is still not too late; immunity takes effect in two weeks, officials said.
Cody said there have been sporadic shortages of the vaccine, but that is because of a sudden high demand, not because there is a shortage of vaccine. Typically a location that is out of the vaccine will restock the inoculant in a few days. People should first call their health provider to see if they still have the vaccine.
People can also look online at the flu vaccine locator to see which pharmacies and other venues still have the vaccine. The map might not be up to the minute, however, and people should call ahead, she said.
In the meantime, "wash your hands frequently and cover your cough," Cody said.
California has not yet been hit hard, but 47 states now report widespread flu activity, according to the CDC. Only California and Mississippi report "regional" infections and Hawaiian state epidemiologists report only sporadic cases, according to the CDC.
Santa Clara County Department of Public Health has weekly flu-watch updates on its website.