Flu deaths in California reach 243; peak of season may have passed

A "flu tent" is set up by a hospital in San Jose for the treatment of patients with flu-like symptoms.
A “flu tent” is set up by a hospital in San Jose for the treatment of patients with flu-like symptoms.
(John G. Mabanglo / EPA)

California’s public health agency is reporting an additional 41 confirmed influenza deaths in people under age 65, bringing this flu season’s total to 243.

But the California Department of Public Health also said Friday that weekly flu deaths, as well as hospitalizations and doctor visits among people with flu-like illness, were declining -- with hospitalizations now occurring within expected levels for this point in the season.

“The downward trend in the number of influenza cases is a good sign, but the season is far from over,” Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the department, said in a statement.


Los Angeles County health officials reported that they have also noted a decrease in influenza activity “suggesting that the peak of flu season has passed.”

The state is investigating an additional 41 cases, which are likely to be confirmed in coming days. California’s 2013-2014 flu season has already proved far more severe than the 2012-2013 season. By this time last year, 26 people had died from the flu; throughout the entire season, 106 people died.

Scientists have hypothesized that one reason for the severity of this year’s flu is the predominance of the H1N1, or swine flu, strain -- which has proved particularly deadly in younger, healthier people. But the state’s report Friday indicated that the “great majority” of the deaths this year occurred in people with underlying medical conditions, who are always at high risk of complications from influenza, along with the elderly, pregnant women and infants.

The department urged Californians at high risk who experience flu symptoms to call their physician immediately to get treatment, and encouraged anyone who hadn’t done so already to get a flu vaccination, which Chapman said remained “the best way to prevent illness and the spread of illness.”

Of the state’s confirmed flu deaths, 33 were in Los Angeles County. There the local Department of Public Health, which uses different criteria than the state to report flu deaths, said Friday that 52 people had thus far died from influenza in the county. Two of those fatalities were children.

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