Santa Clara County reports first person to die from the flu this year

Santa Clara County is reporting its first death from the flu this year. Health officials say they’re expecting to see a rise in flu cases this fall and winter after two years of decline during the pandemic.

KTVU spoke with local doctors who say we’ve all been focused on COVID-19 for the last two years, but they explain why the flu is roaring back and what we need to do to prepare for it.  

Just a week after the County of Santa Clara Public Health Dept. sounded the alarm about rising flu cases, county health officials are reporting the first person to die from the influenza virus. Health officials say the person who died was an adult under the age of 65, had underlying conditions and was not vaccinated for the flu.  

"When one virus predominates it kind of prevents other viruses from setting up shop. So we’ve been having COVID for the last 2 ½ years, and now we have such high rates of immunity to COVID that COVID is in the background more and flu can come up," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a UC San Francisco Infectious Disease Specialist. 

Emergency rooms throughout Santa Clara County report about three times the number of flu cases than in the 2019-2020 season. Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi says people need to be especially cautious when gathering this holiday season.   

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"If you have to cough or sneeze, remember to do that in your elbow. Wash your hands after you cough or sneeze. Here in California, we can keep more ventilation going because it’s not as cold. Keep those windows somewhat open," Dr. Gandhi said.

Flu symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, and other respiratory viruses like COVID and RSV, but also include fatigue, fever and body aches. 

"Everybody feels crappy when they get the flu. We haven’t had this much flu in about 10 years, so it’s really, at this time, coming back at a really high level. And this is just the beginning," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist.     

He said cases of the flu will probably remain at a high level until around March of next year.  

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"You have all these holidays and gatherings coming one after the other, and that doesn’t give the community much time to recover so that the curves of the disease just stack up on each other," said Dr. Chin-Hong.  

Both doctors highly recommend getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19. Dr. Chin-Hong also says putting on a mask can add an extra layer of protection this flu season.