By NewsDesk  @bactiman63

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has received the first report of an influenza-associated death of the 2021-22 influenza season. The death was in a middle-aged resident with multiple underlying medical conditions. The individual tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times over the course of his illness. The person had not yet been vaccinated for seasonal influenza yet this season.

A person receives the seasonal influenza vaccine (flu shot).

Although most people recover from influenza without complications, this death is a reminder that influenza can be a serious illness. Pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu. Flu can also aggravate underlying health conditions like heart disease or asthma. Annually, thousands of people nationwide are hospitalized or die from influenza-associated illness.

Last winter, circulation of influenza and other respiratory viruses was likely suppressed by measures implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although influenza seasons are difficult to predict even in normal years, we are preparing for influenza viruses to spread in Los Angeles County this fall and winter. Indicators of influenza activity in Los Angeles County are currently low but have been rising in recent weeks.

While the flu vaccine can vary in effectiveness from year to year, it still provides the best protection against influenza and its complications. With flu activity low but rising in Los Angeles County, now is an excellent time to get vaccinated. Public Health and the CDC recommend flu vaccination for everyone greater than 6 months old. This recommendation includes children and pregnant women. Healthy people who feel they don’t need to be vaccinated should still get the vaccine to protect others in their community, especially the elderly, the young and those with weakened immune systems. Influenza vaccination is also a great way to help protect our hospital capacity in the event of a winter COVID-19 surge. The flu vaccine can be administered at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Groups of people that are at high risk for flu complications include children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and pregnant women. Medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes and being overweight (having a body-mass index >40) can also increase your risk for flu complications. Influenza symptoms are similar to COVID symptoms. High risk persons who test negative for COVID should get an influenza test.

People at higher risk for complications from the flu should seek medical care as soon as they begin to feel ill, whether or not they have been vaccinated. Anti-viral medication like oseltamivir (available generically or under the tradename Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (available under the tradename Relenza®) can shorten the duration of the flu and can reduce the risk of complications or death. These medications work best when taken within 48 hours of becoming sick but can still be beneficial if used later in the course of illness.