Northern Idaho man dies from flu-related illness as flu season gets an early start

A northern Idaho man over the age of 50 has died from an influenza-related illness.

“The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is warning residents that the flu season appears to have arrived early this year, with this first influenza-related death of the season and early reports of flu activity from other parts of the state,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, the state influenza surveillance coordinator. “This underscores how important it is for all of us to take precautions now to avoid influenza infections. In addition to washing your hands and staying home if you are sick, visit your health care provider, local public health district, or pharmacy to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated today will help protect you and your family now and for the rest of the influenza season.”

This is Idaho’s first influenza-associated death of the season. The first reported influenza-related death last season didn’t occur until December. Last flu season, 72 people were reported to have died from flu-related illnesses in Idaho. On average, 23 people die from flu-related illness each year, based on data from 2009-2010 through 2015-2016 flu seasons. 

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that infects 5 to 20 percent of the population every year. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and sometimes a cough and sore throat. Most people who get influenza recover after a few days, but some people may develop serious complications and even die. Every year, the flu contributes to an estimated 12,000 to 56,000 deaths in the United States, and 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations.

People who are especially vulnerable to complications of the flu include:

  • Pregnant women or those planning on being pregnant during the influenza season
  • Children 6 months through 59 months of age
  • People 50 years of age or older
  • People of any age with an immunocompromising condition or with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart, or lung diseases
  • Children and adolescents at risk for developing Reye syndrome
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • Obese people
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu

Everyone over six months of age is recommended to get the flu vaccine, unless they have medical reasons to avoid it.

Options for vaccination this year include vaccines that offer protection from four strains of flu, and many vaccines that cover three strains. There is also a high dose vaccine for people over the age of 65, and a vaccine that is injected under the skin and not into the muscle. As in last year’s flu season, nasal spray vaccines are not available. Speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to determine which type of vaccine is best for you.

Tengelsen advises people to follow these additional steps to protect themselves and others:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent infecting other people. Avoid people who appear to be sick.
  • Stay home from work or school when sick so you don’t infect others.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after being out in the public. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth until you have washed your hands.
  • Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of liquids, eat nutritious foods and take part in physical activity to stay healthy.

For information about influenza and how to stay healthy, please visit www.cdc.gov/flu or http://flu.idaho.gov.

Contact:  Niki Forbing-Orr
Public Information Manager
(208) 334-0668

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