The notorious strain of influenza known as swine flu has claimed the life of at least one San Francisco resident this flu season, one of nine flu-related deaths in the greater Bay Area.
Flu season appears to be in full swing across the region: In addition to the death in San Francisco in December — public health officials declined to release the person’s gender, age or place of hospitalization — flu or flu-like afflictions have killed two people in Marin, two people in Santa Clara, a woman in San Mateo and one person each in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in recent weeks, according to public health officials.
In most of those cases — and in the case of a 23-year-old who succumbed to the flu in Sonoma County on Wednesday — the victims had other health conditions, but with one similarity: the culprit was swine flu, also known as H1N1.
Swine flu is particularly worrisome for its tendency to lay low adults who are less susceptible to other strains of the disease.
However, the disease is treatable and, with vaccines designed to fight swine flu as well as other strains, preventable.
H1N1 captured media attention and struck fear into citizens across the globe during its introduction to the world in a 2009-10 pandemic.
Since then, the virus — which does not have discernible, telltale symptoms, unlike other strains of flu — has laid low, and scientists aren’t exactly sure why.
Nonetheless, swine flu is “something we will probably have to deal with year after year,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, a pathologist at UC San Francisco.
Those most at risk of serious illness or death due to the flu are the very young, the elderly and adults with weakened immune systems.
That includes people with diabetes, HIV, cancer, lung disease, emphysema and people who are obese, said Chiu, who added that this year’s swine flu does not appear to be “more virulent” than the 2009-10 edition.
Current flu vaccines immunize recipients from H1N1 as well as more common influenza B and H3N2, or influenza A strains.
Regardless of a person’s health, everyone is urged to get vaccinated, according to Dr. Cora Hoover, director of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Between 10 to 20 percent of the population can expect to get the flu this year, said Hoover, who advised those who do fall ill to take the necessary actions, such as staying home from work.
And since flu season will last until March, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, she added.
“Many, many people who should get the flu vaccine don’t get it,” she said. “It’s not too late to get the flu shot.”
Flu deaths by county this season
San Francisco: 1
Contra Costa: 1
Santa Clara: 2
San Mateo: 1
Source: County public health departments
Where to get the shot
Flu shots are available at most drug stores and pharmacies, as well as through the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s mobile immunization clinic.