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Salt Lake County Health Department reports first flu death

Published: Monday, Jan. 25 2016 1:50 p.m. MST

A Salt Lake County resident has died from influenza, the first flu-related death in the county, health officials said.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake County resident has died from influenza, the first flu-related death in the county this year, health officials said.

The resident was over the age of 65 and did not receive the flu vaccine, Salt Lake County Health Department spokeswoman Pam Davenport said.

In a statement, county epidemiology bureau manager Ilene Risk called the death "a tragic reminder that influenza is a serious disease — but one that is largely preventable."

So far this year, 80 people have been hospitalized due to influenza. That includes 39 in Salt Lake County and 13 in Weber-Morgan counties.

Compared to previous years, the 2015-16 flu season has been slow to start. Last year, nearly 1,400 people were hospitalized due to influenza, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Health officials expect the numbers to start rising in late January and February, when flu activity usually peaks.

Rebecca Ward, with the Utah Department of Health Bureau of Epidemiology, said activity has started accelerating.

"This year we have not seen a lot of activity until recently, and now it’s picking up, and it’s increasing and it’s increasing nationwide," Ward said.

"It's a serious business," she added, particularly for children and older adults. "If you haven't gotten vaccinated, you need to do it."

Because influenza is unpredictable and often associated with other dangerous conditions like pneumonia or congestive heart failure, it's difficult for public health officials to track how many people die every year as a result.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of flu-related deaths varies widely each year, from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000.

Children and older adults are particularly susceptible. Nationally, in the 2014-15 flu season, 147 children died due to flu-related complications.

People can still get vaccinated but should do it as soon as possible because the vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect, Ward said.

She said that this year's vaccine is a good match for the strain of influenza that's been circulating.

If you have health insurance, your flu shot should be free — covered as a preventive service under President Barack Obama's health care law.

If you don't have health insurance, many clinics offer low-cost flu shots.

At Salt Lake County and Utah County health departments, flu shots are $32-$48 depending on the type of vaccine.

Costco pharmacies offer flu shots for $14.99. Smith's, CVS, Walgreen's and Rite Aid pharmacies charge between $30 and $40, depending on the type of shot.

Email: dchen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DaphneChen_

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