Napa Valley’s first confirmed flu death this season was reported Wednesday by county officials.
The victim was an 84-year-old man who had other medical issues that led to complications, according to the county.
Officials did not identify the flu victim nor say where he had died.
Since Jan. 6, 15 people have been hospitalized in Napa County for the flu. Ten of those patients were admitted to the ICU. According to media reports, there have been at least 19 deaths in the nine-county Bay Area.
At Queen of the Valley, four patients with flu illness were still in the ICU Wednesday. All four of those patients are experiencing more severe cases of flu because they have other medical issues, Queen spokesperson Vanessa deGier said.
The strain of flu that’s been causing the most severe illness this season is H1N1 — which was known as “swine flu” when it emerged in 2009. This strain causes more flu illness in children and young adults, but people of any age with other medical conditions are also at risk for more severe illness, according to the county.
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students in the Napa Valley Unified School District returned to class this week, and school officials say the number of flu cases is already higher than average.
Laura Ryan, the district’s administrator of interventions, sent an advisory to the schools on Wednesday to warn parents about flu symptoms and to advise them to keep sick children at home.
This year’s flu vaccine, which is still available, includes protection from H1N1 and H3N2, as well as an influenza B virus. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to offer full protection and lasts for about a year.
In addition to seasonal flu, norovirus — a very contagious stomach virus — is also spreading through Napa Valley.
Numerous cases have been reported at local health facilities and assisted living centers, including at the Meadows of Napa Valley.
“The Meadows is experiencing an outbreak of a stomach flu virus called norovirus,” said Wayne Panchesson, the Meadows’ executive director. “We see this to varying degree almost every year, and this year we noticed it just after New Year’s Day.”
Panchesson said they have taken “quick measures to mitigate the outbreak,” including stopping all group activities (dining, recreation activities, bus outings) and making sure residents stay in their apartments or beds during illness and for at least 48 hours after symptoms have resolved.
The Meadows is not under quarantine, and while access has been limited, people can still come and go, Panchesson said.
“The Meadows staff is well-prepared and trained to handle such occurrences, and we will continue to take every measure we can to ensure the health and safety of our residents and employees,” Panchesson said.
DeGier said Queen of the Valley has also seen norovirus cases, but no outbreak has occurred within the hospital. All of the norovirus patients are over the age of 65, and a couple of those patients are in the ICU, deGier said. The ICU patients all have other medical issues that are making their cases of norovirus more severe, deGier said.
Norovirus causes the stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed (acute gastroenteritis). This leads to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC.
Norovirus is “very contagious” and can be picked up from an infected person, ingesting contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC.
Anyone can be infected with norovirus. Because there are different types of norovirus, people can get sick from the illness many times in their life. The virus can be serious, especially for young children and older adults.
Each year, norovirus causes 19 to 21 million illnesses and contributes to 570 to 800 deaths, according to the CDC.
The best way to help prevent norovirus is to practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness. People with norovirus can feel extremely ill and vomit or have diarrhea many times a day. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses, according to the CDC.
Most people with norovirus get better within one to three days.
There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral (not a bacterial) infection.
People with norovirus should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. This will help prevent dehydration.
Symptoms of seasonal flu include fever and chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, coughing, sore throat and exhaustion, according to the CDC. Some people (mostly children) may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Symptoms typically occur suddenly three to six hours, and fevers may last three to four days.
In California, the peak flu season typically runs from early January to early April.
Every year in the United States, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, according to Napa County Public Health. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications, and about 36,000 die from flu-related causes across the U.S, according to the county website.
The flu is spread through “droplets,” most often produced by coughing, which is why doctors recommend always covering coughs and washing hands frequently. Experts say the best way to cover a cough is with the inside of one’s elbow. People who cover coughs with their hands have a higher chance of touching something or someone and spreading germs.
To help kill flu germs, people should wash their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer gel.
People with flu symptoms should stay home and not return to work or school until they are healthy.