State Hit by First Non-Senior Flu Death

On Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health announced an influenza-associated fatality in the state of someone under age 65 — the first non-senior flu death this year.

“As California’s public health officer, I am troubled when the flu turns into loss of life,” said Karen Smith, the state’s public health officer, in a written statement. “It doesn’t have to.”

The non-senior flu-related death occurred in Santa Clara County, state DPH officials said. The department has been urging Californians since the start of October to get vaccinated. Flu season typically peaks from December to April, according to the DPH.

A new law will go into effect next year requiring day care workers to get the flu shot. SB 792, by state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), requires the influenza immunization (along with whooping cough and measles vaccines) as a condition of employment for all day care workers in California. That bill goes into effect in September 2016.

In five of the past six years, the flu shot has had an efficacy between 47% and 60%, according to the federal CDC — but last year’s flu shot dipped significantly below that, down to 23% effectiveness.

The state DPH is recommending the flu shot for everyone over the age of six months, including pregnant women. According to DPH, two of this flu season’s vaccine components (H3N2 and the Yamagata lineage strains) have been updated to match the likely viruses in California this flu season.

DPH recently issued California influenza surveillance report that said the state had 78 influenza-associated deaths among Californians under age 65 during the last flu season.

That death toll likely is much higher, health officials said, for two reasons: Fatalities sometimes can go unrecognized as being associated with the flu; and seniors are at higher risk of dying from flu complications and the only deaths reported to DPH are those people under age 65.

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