First Flu Death of the Season in LA County Confirmed
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has confirmed the first reported influenza-associated death of the 2023-24 influenza season. The death was in an elderly resident with multiple underlying conditions. The person had no record of influenza vaccination this season.
Although most people recover from influenza without complications, this death is a reminder that influenza can be a serious illness. Pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu. Flu can also aggravate underlying health conditions like heart disease or asthma. Annually, thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized or die from influenza-associated illness.
Last season, co-circulation of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) began early in the fall compared to prior years. These two viruses, along with the virus that causes COVID-19, created a significant strain on our healthcare system. Although influenza seasons are difficult to predict, we are preparing for another fall and winter season in which influenza, RSV and COVID-19 spread concurrently in Los Angeles County. Current indicators of influenza activity in Los Angeles County are in line with past seasons and have been rising in recent weeks.
While the flu vaccine can vary in effectiveness from year to year, it still provides the best protection against influenza and its complications. With indicators of flu activity increasing in Los Angeles County and the holidays approaching, it is important that residents are vaccinated. Public Health and the CDC recommend flu vaccination for everyone greater than 6 months old. Healthy people who feel they don’t need to be vaccinated should still get the vaccine to protect others in their community, especially the elderly, the young and those with weakened immune systems. Influenza vaccination is also a great way to help protect our hospital capacity in the event of another “tripledemic.” The flu vaccine can be administered at the same time as the updated COVID-19 vaccine.
The symptoms of influenza, RSV and COVID-19 are similar. People with symptoms of a respiratory virus should get tested for COVID-19. People at higher risk for complications from the flu should talk to their provider about influenza testing and treatment as soon as they begin to feel ill. Groups of people that are at high risk for flu complications include children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and pregnant women. Medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes and being overweight (having a body-mass index >40) can also increase your risk for flu complications.
People at higher risk for complications from the flu should seek medical care as soon as they begin to feel ill, whether or not they have been vaccinated. Anti-viral medication like oseltamivir (available generically or under the tradename Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (available under the tradename Relenza®) can shorten the duration of the flu and can reduce the risk of complications or death. These medications work best when taken within 48 hours of becoming sick but can still be beneficial if used later in the course of illness.