San Francisco public health officials reported the first death from influenza this season on January 9th, 2023. The individual who died was elderly and had underlying medical conditions. This death comes amidst an unusually early and severe flu season nationwide.
Victim Had Other Medical Conditions
The San Francisco resident who died from flu complications was over the age of 65 and had other unspecified medical conditions, according to health officials . State privacy laws prevent release of further details on the individual.
Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco Health Officer, noted “Flu can be a very serious illness, especially for those who have chronic medical conditions” . The flu exacerbated the victim’s other health issues leading to their death.
Officials Urge Flu Shots For High Risk Groups
With this first confirmed fatality from influenza, SF Department of Health officials are urging vaccination, particularly for those at highest risk of flu complications . This includes young children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or immunosuppression.
Dr. Philip stated, “We strongly recommend that people get their flu shots to prevent severe illness, and if they do get sick with flu, talk with their doctor right away about treatment with an antiviral drug.”
|Risk From Flu
|Those with Medical Conditions
(Table showing groups at higher risk for flu complications)
Early Flu Season Peaking Nationwide
This initial flu fatality in San Francisco comes amidst an aggressive early flu season across the country .
The CDC reports influenza activity remains very high but may be peaking nationally based on hospitalization and test data. However, significant flu activity is expected to continue for weeks. Currently the H3N2 flu strain is dominant, tending to cause more severe illness in vulnerable groups.
|National Flu Levels
| Hospitalizations | Very High | Very High (potentially peaking)
| Positive Tests | Very High | Very High (potentially peaking)
| Geographic Spread | Very High | Very High
| Predominant Strain | H3N2 | H3N2
(Table comparing national flu levels for December 2022 versus January 2023)
San Francisco health providers began seeing unusually high flu volumes before the holidays in late December. The early death “indicates it’s going to be a severe flu season and it’s not over yet,” commented one infectious disease specialist . They expect significant additional hospitalizations.
Flu Vaccination Rates Still Too Low
Health experts estimate only about half of San Franciscans get their annual flu shot. Statewide the numbers are similar . Vaccination rates dropped nationwide during the COVID pandemic as public focus shifted. With pandemic precautions relaxing lately, flu viruses have more opportunities to spread and cause outbreaks.
|Est. Flu Vaccination Rate 2023
(Table showing estimated 2023 flu vaccination rates)
“With only around half of people vaccinated, our community remains vulnerable to serious flu outbreaks,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano of the SF Health Officer’s Surveillance and Epidemiology Team . “It’s not too late to get vaccinated if you haven’t yet. The flu shot is safe and the best line of defense.”
Long Flu Season Expected To Continue
Health experts warn the flu season typically runs through May and more hospitalizations are ahead . The early death “bodes for a pretty significant flu season as a whole,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong of UCSF.
The predominance of H3N2 strain viruses will also extend the season. Chin-Hong stated, “H3N2 seasons are usually the worst possible seasons you can have – they tend to peak early and they tend to peak high”.
He expects hospitalizations to rise through January and February before peaking. But warn “there’s still lot of flu to come.” Vulnerable groups in particular should take protective measures immediately and get vaccinated if they have not already.
In summary, the first reported influenza death in San Francisco this season highlights the dangers of flu and warnings from health officials of a difficult flu season ahead. They urge vaccination and preventative steps, particularly for those at highest risk of complications. This death underscores the need for continued vigilance and public health measures around influenza in the city and nationwide.
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