Influenza has now killed 163 people in California, according to statistics released Friday by the state Department of Public Health.
The number has not risen so high this early in the flu season since 2013-2014 when more than 350 people had died within a comparable period. That year, the death toll rose to 404. The flu season typically ends by May.
In the Sacramento region, local hospitals have not seen the same surge in cases as in the Bay Area and Southern California. The flu-tracking program Sickweather.com rates the risk of flu as high in Sacramento, however, giving the region a SickScore of 86 out of 100.
Sickweather crowdsources information on flu illness from social media and other sources such as pharmaceutical sales. Another illness tracker, DoctorsReport.com, analyzes data from doctors’ offices and shows the severity of flu within ZIP codes all around the region.
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DoctorsReport.com shows hotspots on the east side of Woodland; in Sacramento neighborhoods such as South Land Park, Hollywood Park, Del Paso Heights and throughout southeast Sacramento; in a swath of Roseville bordered by Highway 65, Foothills Boulevard and Interstate 80; and all around Lincoln.
“Up until this point, there really was no early warning or real-time surveillance of things like influenza,” said Graham Dodge, the co-founder of Sickweather.com. “The CDC…is usually on about a two-week lag from what they get from hospitals and other health-care facilities. Two weeks is the entire viral life cycle for lots of illnesses, so by the time the alert goes out to the media and through the media, it’s already passed.”
State statute requires health-care providers to report flu-associated deaths for anyone under age 65 to public health departments. As many as 13 people under age 65 have died from flu in the Sacramento region this season, county health officials told The Bee on Friday. Eight of those deaths were in Sacramento County, four in Yolo County, one in Placer County, and none in El Dorado County.
Dodge said that knowledge of illness helps people to manage the disease. Medical professionals urge everyone to get vaccinated. Since the flu is spread through droplets from the mouth, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Regularly sanitize shared work spaces, telephones and household surfaces. If possible, limit your exposure to large groups in close quarters.
State public health officials pointed to a 2017 study by the CDC that found that flu shots reduce the risk of child morality by 65 percent for healthy children and by 51 percent for children with high-risk medical conditions.
The H3N2 flu virus has been the predominate bug this season, and that particular strain has been found to particularly difficult to beat, especially for those ages 65 and over and for children.