More people are showing up at California clinics and hospitals with flu-like symptoms this year, signaling a rough start to the flu season. But Santa Clara County appears to be largely spared from the trend so far, with no deaths among people under 65 years old.
The state has recorded 54 flu deaths since Sept. 29, the start of the flu season, and two-thirds of victims were over the age of 65, according to data through Dec. 28 released by the California Department of Public Health. There are more people exhibiting flu-like symptoms in an outpatient setting than expected, and hospitalizations for the flu — deemed normal as of Dec. 21 — are now unusually high as well.
The rising reported cases coincide with national data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showing the prevalence of reported flu cases is similar to the 2017-18 season, largely considered one of the most deadly in decades.
Despite the worrying trend and flu deaths reported in Marin and Sonoma counties, Santa Clara County health officials say local flu activity is still "typical" for this time of year. In a Jan. 3 statement, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department reported that there have been no deaths so far in the 2019-20 flu season, and that it's too early to say how severe it will be before it peaks in the next two months.
Dr. Daniel Shin, an infectious disease specialist at El Camino Hospital, said local hospitalizations haven't differed much from the last flu season. As of this week, El Camino's Mountain View campus had admitted 25 flu patients to the hospital, three of whom were placed in the intensive care unit (ICU), while the Los Gatos campus hospitalized five flu patients and placed one in the ICU. No deaths have been reported from either hospital, he said.
Shin said he is still urging people to get a flu shot, and that it's not too late for the vaccination to be useful. Unlike past years, when the vaccine safeguards against strains that aren't prevalent, this year seems to be a good match: the predominant strain, B Victoria, is included in this year's flu shot.
"We're still promoting it and asking patients to get vaccinated," Shin said.
State health officials are also advising people to take preventive measures to stop the spread of the flu, including covering coughs and sneezes, frequently washing hands and staying home when sick. People at high risk of "serious" flu complications may be prescribed antiviral drugs to treat the illness, and those hospitalized may also be given antibiotics to prevent pneumonia, Shin said.