Sonoma County’s flu season turned deadly in January, when two people under the age of 65 died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, even as the virus’ spread peaked in California.
The hospital reported Friday that a 46-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman died last month as a result of flu-related illnesses. The woman died of pneumonia and respiratory failure, while the man died of respiratory failure and sepsis, said Vanessa DeGier, a Memorial Hospital spokeswoman.
Flu-related deaths are reported to county public health officials only in cases where patients are under 65, since such deaths are not uncommon among elderly patients. Health experts say the flu poses a lethal threat to the elderly, infants and those with chronic illness or weakened immune systems.
“It’s been higher-than-normal flu volume coming into the emergency departments at all of our hospitals,” DeGier said.
Sonoma County public health officials confirmed only one of the deaths as of Jan. 27. DeGier said the 56-year-old woman died Jan. 30.
Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman said the spread of flu is beginning to taper off locally and across the state, but the season will still go on for several weeks. County surveillance efforts will continue for the next two months, she said.
“People need to remain aware that it’s still flu season,” Milman said, adding that the recent deaths underscore the seriousness of the illness and the need for local residents to get vaccinated and take other preventative measures.
“We really want to urge people to take precautions,” she said. “It’s not too late to get your flu shot and make sure you wash your hands and do things to stay healthy, such as eat well and get plenty of sleep.”
The county said the patient who died on or before Jan. 27 had underlying medical conditions but offered no other information about the patient, citing federal health care privacy rules. County officials would not even give the person’s gender or age.
Public health officials have taken a strict interpretation of privacy rules and argue that a person’s gender or age could be used to identify them.
Thus far, Sonoma County has seen 12 severe cases in adults under age 65, officials said. The current rate of illness in the state and Sonoma County is “trending moderately high,” officials said.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone who is 6 months or older, and is especially important for pregnant women, children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes. It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
To prevent the spread of the flu virus, health officials recommended the following precautions:
Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue.
If you do not have a tissue, cough into your elbow.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Stay home when you are sick
Stay home until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours.
Statewide, there were 93 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths among those under the age of 65 through Jan. 20. There have also been 308 nonfatal ICU admissions. Of these, 31 percent were cases where people were vaccinated; 96 percent had underlying health conditions.