California health officials report first death of flu season

California health officials on Thursday confirmed the state’s first death of this year’s influenza season and reminded everyone to get a flu shot before more people get sick.

“As this unfortunate case illustrates, the flu can be deadly and causes thousands of fatalities each year in the United States,” said Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health. “Fortunately, people can get vaccinated to help keep them from getting sick and spreading the flu to others.”

The death reported Thursday was a middle-aged man in the northern part of Los Angeles County.

The state collects data only on Californians under 65, so the total flu mortality numbers are much higher, officials say. (Between 80% and 90% of flu deaths are typically people 65 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Last season, 120 Californians younger than 65 died of the flu, compared with 78 during the previous season.

Flu season runs from October through May and typically peaks in February.

Though there’s been only one death in California so far, 11 people who came down with the flu have ended up in hospital intensive care units since October, officials said. 

Health officials recommend the flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months old, including pregnant women. Officials say it’s never too late to get a flu shot, though it takes about two weeks to take effect.

This year, officials no longer are recommending the nasal spray flu vaccine because it hasn’t worked in the past. Children must get the shot instead of the spray.

Though some healthy people may not worry about getting the flu, officials say they should still get the shot so they don’t spread the illness to someone who might not recover as quickly.

Last season, the deaths of at least 85 children nationwide were flu-related, and in half of those cases, no other contributing illness made them more susceptible. 

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @skarlamangla

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