A person infected with a yet-to-be specified strain of the influenza virus died this week at Grass Valley’s Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, according to a Nevada County government official.
“It is with regret that I inform our community that a previously healthy resident of Nevada County in their 30s passed away due to complications from influenza on Jan. 8,” said Dr. Ken Cutler, Nevada County’s public health officer, in a statement. “Testing confirmed influenza, with lab results pending for the H1N1 strain.”
The victim is not being named.
Seven people have died statewide from the flu so far this season, and more people are ending up in the hospital than expected as flu season ramps up, state health officials said Friday.
The California Department of Public Health said flu activity is now considered widespread, though it’s too soon to know if this year will be severe. Flu season in the state typically peaks in February or March, but state health officials said they’re already seeing deaths and hospitalizations slightly earlier than usual.
The number of deaths is “rising rapidly,” state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez said. Besides the seven confirmed deaths, officials were investigating an additional 28 deaths to determine if the flu is to blame. All victims were younger than 65, and none of this season’s flu deaths so far have been children. The state does not keep track of flu deaths among the elderly, who are most vulnerable to flu and its complications.
Of the seven who died, six were infected with the swine flu strain, health officials said. In 2009, a swine flu pandemic killed at least 150,000 people worldwide, including more than 600 in California.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 35 states are seeing an uptick in flu symptoms. The H1N1 strain, which mostly affects young and middle-aged people, appears to be the dominant strain circulating so far in California and the rest of the U.S. this flu season, according to Nevada County officials.
“Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s highest priority is the care and safety of our patients and staff,” said Dr. Brian Evans, SNMH’s chief medical officer, in a statement to The Union. “We are closely monitoring the flu and following federal and state guidelines for its prevention and treatment.”
The hospital’s infection-control practitioners are emphasizing prevention measures, Evans said.
Hand-washing is stressed; caregivers are using appropriate personal protective equipment; patients entering the hospital with flu-like symptoms are asked to wear a mask, as are some visitors, for their own safety; and nearly every SNMH employee has been vaccinated with this year’s flu shot, which includes the H1N1 vaccine, Evans said.
Chavez said the latest vaccine is a match to types of viruses that are circulating and urged people to get immunized before it’s too late.
“Those who have not received the flu vaccination must wear a mask (at the hospital) for the duration of flu season,” Evans said.
The Public Health Department has conducted five flu clinics for Nevada County residents since October 2013; a total of 2,050 vaccinations were given. The department also coordinated with local pharmacies to facilitate additional access to vaccinations.
“It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine,” Cutler said.
A yearly flu vaccine is the most important step to take in preventing influenza, health officials noted. It’s also important to remember that it is necessary to get a flu shot every year. This year’s vaccine has been available since early October and remains available through the Public Health Department, health care providers and some local pharmacies. An influenza vaccine is especially important for pregnant women and other people at higher risk for severe influenza.
Nevada County health officials said people should stay home when they are sick. The hospital also advised residents to frequently wash their hands and avoid contact — or limit contact — with sick people. It is also recommended that Nevada County residents cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, doing so into their elbows rather than the hands. Residents should avoid touching eyes, noses and mouths, Evans said.
The Union’s Matthew Renda and The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.