Placer County flu season turns deadly

Early season fatality one of 10 in state
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Placer County’s flu season recorded its first fatality of the year in December — one of 10 so far in California.

Placer health authorities would release no information about the victim last week, other than to say the person was under the age of 65.

The flu season has hit Placer County earlier than usual, county Health Officer Dr. Robert Oldham said.

Reports from medical facilities are indicating that the levels of patients reporting flu symptoms is reaching levels normally seen during late January, when flu season peaks in Placer County, he said.

“We’re hopeful that it’s an early season and not a bad season,” Oldham said. “It seems like there’s plenty out there and we have it plenty early.”

Placer County is not alone in California, with a population toughing out bouts of coughing, wheezing and high temperatures.

The state Department of Public Health has declared that flu is “widespread” in California, with hospitalizations above expected levels for this time of year throughout the state. Of reporting hospitals, labs are detecting 34.9 percent of samples from patients with an influenza-like illness are coming back positive for flu — an increase from 25.5 percent the previous week.

Influenza symptoms are typically any illness with a fever above 100 degrees, a cough and a sore throat.

“In general, if you have cold or flu symptoms that came on quickly or won’t go away, that are more severe than a normal cold, have a high fever, headache, muscle aches, soreness — when in doubt, see your doctor,” Oldham said.

A diagnosis can get tricky, particularly for people at a stage where they don’t think they need to visit a doctor, Oldham said.

“It’s hard to tell by the descriptions, so further medical testing will help,” he said. “But even the experts can have a hard time determining between a cold and the flu.”

A good preventative has been a flu shot, and Oldham recommends finding a clinic if someone has yet to get the flu vaccine for this season.

The standard advice during the cough and cold season remains in place regarding washing hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Oldham said the number of deaths so far attributed to the flu in California is not necessarily high for this time of year, and Placer County normally records one to two deaths a year in the under-65 age category. By mid-January 2017, California had reported nine flu deaths.

The decision to not release more specific information on the lone flu death in Placer County this flu season follows the health department’s practice of not providing any potentially identifying information related to death unless there is a strong public health reason to do so, Oldham said.

“For instance, we released some information about the infant death from pertussis a few years back because it was relevant information to protect public health,” Oldham said.