California has now confirmed 45 deaths from influenza this season, health officials have reported — an increase of 38 since the end of last week and further indication that this year's flu may be especially severe.
"The great majority" of the newly confirmed patients who died had not received an influenza vaccine, said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez during a phone call with reporters Friday. Two of the new deaths occurred in children, and the state is investigating an additional 50 suspected flu fatalities, reported recently by counties, that "are likely to be confirmed by next week," Chavez added.
The degree of flu activity is unusually high for this time of year, he said.
"For the entire last flu season we received a total of 106 deaths," he said. "Knowing that we have 45 confirmed and 50 under investigation — that's 95 right there, and we're still not at the peak of the season. This seems to be a season where more deaths are being reported."
According to the state numbers, Sacramento County had five confirmed deaths, the most of any county.
Los Angeles County accounted for four of the state-confirmed deaths, including one of the two pediatric cases.
In their weekly Influenza Watch report, L.A. County health officials said Friday that they believed there had been a total of 11 flu deaths in the county thus far this season. All the adults who died also had underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk, county officials said.
Fueling concerns about the severity of this year's flu is the predominance of H1N1, also known as swine flu, which strikes young and health people especially hard.
"I would like to again stress the importance of everyone getting vaccinated for the flu. Please take charge of your health," he said, adding that vaccine doses are widely available.