As the flu season winds down, the number of statewide deaths due to severe influenza continues to rise – to 318 people under the age of 65 – as California public health officials investigate additional cases still trickling in from counties.
By Friday, California had seen three times the number of deaths reported in all of last year’s flu season, which took the lives of 106 people.
Another 26 deaths are under investigation and likely will increase the 2013-14 flu fatality toll, state officials said. Six children in all have perished because of the flu so far.
The H1N1 virus circulating this season has been especially virulent, causing sudden and severe illness in many individuals who have gone straight to intensive care units once they’ve been admitted to hospitals.
Sacramento County, with 28 dead, saw early severe flu activity and was outpacing the rest of the state for a while. In Southern California, however, Los Angeles County is now reporting at least 52 deaths, San Diego at least 27 and San Bernardino, 23.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has downgraded influenza activity from a regional hazard to a local one within California. At one point in the season, the flu was deemed widespread across the entire state.
Still, Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, urged people especially at risk – those 65 and over, pregnant women, infants or those with chronic health conditions – to contact a doctor immediately if they show symptoms, which include vomiting, fever, headaches, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches and fatigue. Anti-viral medications are available through physicians, and work best the faster they are administered.
Public health officials are still advising people to get vaccinated because flu seasons can spike again after leveling off. Currently, outpatient visits by people with influenza-like illnesses continue to decrease and hospitalizations are within a normal, expected range for this time of year.