Jim Collins will never again take the flu lightly.
This flu season is turning out to be among the deadliest in California. One of the 40 lives it has claimed was that of Collins’ girlfriend, Katie Oxley Thomas.
“She was full of life,” said the Bay Area man, choking back tears.
Thomas, a 40-year-old mother of three, was active and enjoyed yoga, pilates, hiking and wake-boarding.
“She had a spirit that wanted to lift everybody around her up,” Collins said.
Thomas, of San Jose, began feeling sick on New Year’s Day. She went to an urgent care facility on Jan. 2.
“They sent her home,” Collins recalled. “They said, ‘You have the flu. You just have to ride it out.’"
Collins said Thomas’ condition deteriorated further by the next night. So he took her back to a hospital where a doctor ordered an X-ray that revealed a chest infection.
“He says, ‘I think she has pneumonia,’” Collins recounted.
But Thomas kept getting worse.
“From the time I took her to the hospital to the time she passed was about 18 hours,” Collins said. “It's scary how fast it happens and it doesn't matter how old you are. She was very healthy."
Health officials say the flu season started in October and has since threatened not only people who are considered high-risk.
This year's flu vaccine is only 10 to 30 percent effective, according to health care providers. But people are still advised to get it because it reduces the severity and length of the flu.
Ruth Rivera with Action Urgent Care says her clinic has been inundated with patients showing flu-like symptoms.
“People are getting sick and it's spreading so easily,” Rivera said. “It's especially dangerous.”
Collins said Thomas’ official cause of death was sepsis, and he questioned whether a previous injury last summer put her at higher risk for an infection from the flu.
“I don't know,” he admitted. “I'd like to blame someone, but I don't know."