Updated: Santa Clara County Public Health Officials Report First Flu Death

An elderly person is said to have succumbed to contagious influenza virus.

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 had 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, answered media questions 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.”

—This post will be updated as more information is released today about the death by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Brad West January 17, 2013 at 10:09 PM
I don't agree that flu vaccination equals immunization, that is, that it "works". Even the biased CDC and numerous meta analysis state it may only reduce symptoms. The evidence is even poorer when studies funded by the manufacturers or those with egos or money involved are removed. I am sorry this person died and know that it was likely not from the flu. And the vaccine has never been proven effective in the most vulnerable populations, infants and elderly!
Brad West January 17, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Meaning, this person died from poor health, not the flu,even if that is what they had. They used to call it "the old mans friend", meaning it was the final straw the put the person to rest when they were struggling with poor health.
MichaelJ January 17, 2013 at 10:41 PM
The key to overcome this flu outbreak is to make sure you wash your hands all the time. Carry a small case with wipes or gel. get the kids used to washing their hands several times a day. And for heaven's sake, if you are sick, stay home!
Los Altos resident January 17, 2013 at 11:41 PM
Are there any studies as to whether this year's flu vaccine is effective against the strain that is causing this year's epidemic?
Brad West January 18, 2013 at 12:05 AM
No studies, jsut lots of speculation and fear-media-hype. Public officials have said it is definitely a match and also it isnt a match! So, we are left to guess. The lastest stat from the CDC, supposedly tracking it is a 62% match. Which is misleading. It means if you have a 2% chance of contracting this exact strain (but there are always a few going around) then your risk will be reduced to about 1%. Unless you are elderly or an infant where no flu vaccine has proven effective. Dont just wash your hands, zinc, Vitamin C, D, A and herbs like elderberry, echinacea, rest, lots of fluids, low stress and sugar and alcohol have proven effects as well as chinese medicine and homeopathy.
Crystal Tai January 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM
Sorry to hear this! Hopefully there will be no more with proper measures taken.
Sheila Sanchez (Editor) January 18, 2013 at 12:35 AM
Public health officials are saying the current flu vaccine is about 62 percent effective against this year's strains. There are several studies online. Will post links in a few minutes. Thanks for the question.
Sheila Sanchez (Editor) January 18, 2013 at 12:42 AM
Here is a link to a good article on this year’s flu vaccine efficacy. I hope this helps! http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6202a4.htm?s_cid=mm6202a4_w Also, you can always refer people to the CDC website for helpful information on the flu and flu vaccine: www.cdc.gov
Beatrice Karnes January 18, 2013 at 12:43 AM
Yes, the flu that's circulating is included in this year's vaccine. Reports that I'm seen, up to this point, indicate that the vaccine is effective in 60-70 percent of people. As Brad West stated, it is least effective in infants and the elderly. Health officials urge family members of infants and the elderly to get vaccinated so that the most vulnerable are not exposed to the virus.
Irene Aida Garza-Ortiz January 18, 2013 at 01:26 AM
I'm allergic to the Flu Shot, it indeed does give me the Flu. But I'm not surprised about how a strong Flu/ Bronchitis/ Pneumonia definitely can bring any one to their death. Young or Old.
Los Altos resident January 18, 2013 at 02:19 AM
Thanks, Sheila and Beatrice. That's very helpful.
Jim Van Camp January 18, 2013 at 06:59 AM
I get a flu shot every year. Sometimes I still get sick so there's no guarantee that you won't have some symptoms. But I definitely don't get as sick when I get the shot. I'm surprised that only about 30% of the population get a shot
Tamra~Kathleen January 18, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I've had a flu shot the last 9 years since having my daughter. I've had flu once in that time but thankfully it was much milder and not during the regular flu season. I'm thankful the vaccine has worked so well for my family.
Brad West January 18, 2013 at 05:19 PM
Some of this info is helpful but some is very misleading. Unfort, most doctors, nurses, public official and gov't agencies dont understand this complex issue. Many reasons to not get the flu vaccine (filled with potenital problems, such as mercury, aluminum, egg, monkey or dog cells, outdated attenuated virus, etc, as well as thinking that avoiding the flu is healthy, that is, its actually good for us to clear viruses with a strong flu every few years, like a workout, we need it to be healthy). Many ways to prevent or support your health in a much safer and more balanced way such as naturopathy, chinese medince and homeopathy. It works, check out pubmed or western research, most MDs and public health officials dont know this or even consider this evidence.
Brad West January 18, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Also, much more to say, but if you want more info see work by a local doc: Randall Neustaeder: Flu, Alternative Treatments and Prevention or any of the Nutritional Healing books as well as your local Naturopathic Doctor, Chiropractor, FUnctional MD or TCM doc. Questioning authority is not only the American way it is becoming critical to our survival.
Keith Johnson March 04, 2013 at 11:40 PM
The Flu shot helps greatly. This is a proven fact. It is all good and fine that you may want to use other methods to prevent illness. Inferring that most doctors and health professionals are wrong could lead others down a slippery slope and even death. Be careful in stating that yours is only an opinion and you are not a professional. Everyone should consult their doctor and not this blog.


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