Health & Medicine

Flu death toll jumps to 127 in California

California’s flu death toll surged to 127 in the latest figures released Friday by the California Department of Public Health, and 100 of those deaths have come since Dec. 31.

This season’s deaths already have surpassed the 95 flu deaths in the entire 2016-17 season, and the number of outpatient and hospital cases remain above expected levels all around the state.

Medical professionals continue to urge everyone to get flu shots, as new outbreaks of the H3N2 virus continue to be reported. Other steps they recommend to stop the spread of flu: Wash your hands often. Cover coughs and sneezes. If you contract the flu, stay home until you are free of symptoms for at least two days.

On average, each person infected with the influenza virus infects fewer than one other person, said Stuart Cohen, chief of the division of infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, but people may run into more than one infected person in a day and that increases their chances of being infected.

While adults may shed the virus for several days after symptoms disappear, children can sometimes shed it for longer.

“Little kids shed longer … which is why vaccinating children has probably been one of the more effective ways of slowing flu down,” Cohen said. “Kids are often the center of transmission.”

Over the course of a flu season, the virus typically mutates, epidemiologists said, so the vaccine may be more effective with some people than with others. But the good thing is that, even if the vaccine is only 20 or 30 percent effective, it can still provide enough protection to save lives.

Since the public health department began collecting data on flu fatalities in September 2011, the death toll in California has risen above 125 in only two other seasons: 404 in 2013-14 and 144 in 2015-16.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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