The first influenza-associated death for the 2014-2015 flu season has been reported to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. But health officials say this is year’s flu strain is not necessarily stronger or more deadly than in recent years.
“The predominant influenza strain this year is an “H3” strain,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County.
“So far this year, there is insufficient information to determine whether this strain causes more or less severe illness. Historically, though, when H3 strains have been dominant, they have tended to cause more serious illness. While we may not be able to predict the severity of flu this season, there are indications that it may get worse.”
According to recent surveillance, officials said, flu activity is showing some increase within the last few weeks in Los Angeles County and may continue to increase as the season progresses. The peak of the season may occur in January or February.
The predominant influenza virus types identified this year are types A H3N2, and lower levels of influenza A H1N1 and influenza B. The current vaccine remains protective against a number of the strains circulating in Los Angeles County, officials said.
The decedent was an elderly female with underlying medical conditions who resided in the Pomona Valley. Testing identified this particular strain as type B.
Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly encourage influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. Getting vaccinated for influenza protects not only the person who receives the vaccine but also reduces the chance that they will spread flu to family members and friends.
This is particularly important for those who are at increased risk of severe influenza, or are in close contact with people who are at a higher risk, which includes infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and persons who have chronic illnesses, obesity, or conditions that reduce the ability to fight infections.
It is especially important for persons at higher risk to seek medical evaluation early, officials said, if they suspect they have the flu so that they can be considered for antiviral medications.
“If an infant, pregnant woman, older person or anyone with chronic medical conditions develops symptoms that could be the flu, make sure they are evaluated quickly,” Gunzenhauser said. “Preventive measures such as washing your hands and staying home when you are ill will help to reduce the spread of flu to others.”
Antiviral medications are particularly effective in treating influenza when they are started soon after symptoms begin. The CDC recommends that antiviral treatment be considered for people at high-risk for severe influenza if they develop a flu-like illness, even before it has been confirmed to be influenza.
Although each influenza season is different, the CDC estimates that an average of 24,000 influenza related deaths occur in the U.S. each year.
“Even though we are well within flu season it’s not too late to get your flu vaccination,” said Gunzenhauser said. “Give yourself, your family, friends and community the gift of health by doing what you can to prevent influenza. Get vaccinated.”
Information about the flu can be found at: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/acd/FluSurveillance.htm
Information from the CDC about the flu can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.
A public health facility offering flu shots in the Northeast Valley is located at 13300 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima. Inoculations are available on Friday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, call (818) 896-1903. Residents may also call the LA County Information Line at 2-1-1 for referrals to flu vaccination sites.