Two Fresno County flu-related deaths raise Valley toll to 29

The Fresno BeeFebruary 7, 2014 

A shot is administered to a patient at the American Legion Hall in Fresno during a flu vaccine clinic Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013.

FRESNO BEE FILE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Influenza deaths continue to increase in Fresno County -- two more were reported Friday, adding to the deadliest flu season in five years.

The latest deaths are the 16th and 17th to die of the flu in the county.

So far, the central San Joaquin Valley has reported 29 deaths. Kings and Merced counties have reported four deaths each, and Madera and Tulare counties have had two each.

State and county health officials also said cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, also are on the rise. California reported the first death, a Riverside County baby, on Friday.

Statewide, 2,372 whooping cough cases were reported in 2013 -- more than twice the 1,022 cases reported in 2012. Fresno County had 33 cases in 2013. In 2012, the county had 16.

Pertussis typically starts with a cough and runny nose in children and worsens into a whooping sound. The disease, which is cyclical and peaks every three to five years, became epidemic in California in 2010. The state reported 9,100 cases and 10 deaths, while Fresno County reported 532 cases and one death.

Both whooping cough and influenza can be prevented by vaccination, and on Friday state health officials encouraged people to get pertussis (tDap) and influenza shots.

The pertussis death of the Riverside County baby "highlights the importance of vaccination," said Dr. James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control in the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health.

Flu activity remains widespread in California, deaths are still climbing -- and it's not too late to get a flu shot, Watt said.

But he offered a bit of hope: There's a chance the flu season is winding down.

"At this point we do appear to be heading downward, below the level of disease we saw three or four weeks ago," he said.

California has had 202 influenza-related deaths -- nearly twice the number reported last season. Another 41 deaths were being investigated Friday.

Watt said most of the victims became ill with influenza in the first two weeks of January, and the latest reports show the numbers of people getting the flu appear to be decreasing. "Most indicators are down from a peak that occurred about three weeks ago," he said.

But while the decrease in flu activity is reassuring, Watt cautioned: "It's not uncommon for the flu season to pick up again."

In Fresno County, three of the flu victims were admitted to hospitals in late December and 10 in early January. Four were admitted late last month. Flu activity appears to be decreasing in Fresno County, which is typical for February, but county health officials said it's too soon to say the worst of the flu season is over.

"In a year when we have this many deaths, there really is no predictability," said Joe Prado, manager of community health at the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

California requires hospitals to report flu-related deaths of people who are younger than age 65. Almost all of the flu deaths have been associated with the 2009 H1N1 virus, also called swine flu.

Fourteen of Fresno County's 17 deaths had H1N1. One person had H3N2, another influenza A strain. Three people had influenza A, but the strains of the virus are unknown.

Watt said most of the severe flu cases statewide have been people between the ages of 40 and 64.

The latest Fresno County deaths were a woman in her 60s and a man in his 40s, Prado said. The woman had health problems that increased her risk of complications from the flu, but the man had been in good health before getting the flu.


Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine information

• Pregnant women should receive a vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they received it before.

• Infants should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The first dose is recommended at two months of age. Young children need five doses of pertussis vaccine by kindergarten (ages 4-6).

• California requires seventh-grade students get a vaccine booster shot.

• Adults need vaccine booster shots, especially if they are in contact with infants or are health care workers or have contact with pregnant women.

Source: California Department of Public Health

Flu shots information

• Everyone over the age of six months is recommended to get a flu shot.

• Vaccination of high-risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.

• People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

• Vaccination also is important for health care workers and other people who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to high-risk people.

• Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine information

Pregnant women should receive a vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they received it before.

Infants should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The first dose is recommended at 2 months of age. Young children need five doses of pertussis vaccine by kindergarten (ages 4-6).

California requires seventh-grade students to get a vaccine booster shot.

Adults need vaccine booster shots, especially if they are in contact with infants or are health-care workers or have contact with pregnant women.

Source: California Department of Public Health

Flu shots information

Everyone over the age of 6 months is recommended to get a flu shot.

Vaccination of high-risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.

People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

Vaccination also is important for health-care workers and other people who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to high-risk people.

Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, banderson@fresnobee.com or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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