Health

Flu season's end in sight, but hospital visits continue at 'elevated' levels, state health officials say

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While the number of flu-related deaths declined across California last week, state health officials on Friday could only repeat the same message that has defined what they’ve called the worst season in almost 10 years: Influenza is continuing to spread at elevated levels.

There were 22 people who died of flu-related illnesses across the state last week, bringing the total number of deaths to 185 in California among those age 64 and younger. While still high compared to an average flu season, the number of fatalities reported this week was a decrease compared to the week before, when 36 people were reported to have died, making it the deadliest week in the season so far.

The California Public Health Department doesn’t count flu-related deaths among those 65 and older because under a state mandate they are not required to do. State health officials have said flu-related deaths in those 64 and younger is used as an indicator of the severity of the season’s strain.

Most of those deaths reported by the state — or 61 of them — are being reported in the southern part of the state, including Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial counties.

In Orange County, there were almost 6,000 people who tested positive for the flu, and 12 deaths reported so far this season. Last year, there were 1,921 cases and 2 deaths, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“Several more weeks of flu activity are expected,” according to state health officials, and many counties are noting that.

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In Los Angeles County, health officials noted there have been 158 flu-related deaths among all ages, though those figures don’t include the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, since each have a health department. Of the 158 deaths, one was a child. Last year, 53 adults died and there were no pediatric, flu-related fatalities.

L.A. County health officials also noted a new trend. Most of this seasons flu-related deaths were attributed to the Influenza A H3N2 strain. But there has been a shift.

“We have also seen a small uptick in ED visits related to influenza-like illness, which may be explained by the increasing predominance of flu B viruses,” according to the weekly report.

Federal health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study this week that noted that this year’s vaccine was 36 percent effective against influenza A and B virus infection.

“This means that the seasonal flu vaccine has reduced the risk of getting sick and having to go to the doctor from flu by about one third,” Los Angeles County health officials wrote in the department’s weekly flu surveillance report.

Influenza A (H3N2) viruses were responsible for most of the flu infections reported in the study.

“Thus, the seasonal flu vaccines are providing some protection against A(H3N2) viruses,” according to L.A. County health officials.

Both state and local health officials continue to press the public to get vaccinated.

“Based on these estimates, flu vaccination will still prevent a substantial amount of illness,” state health officials said.

Influenza symptoms include fever or feeling feverish, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue. Most people with the flu are able to treat themselves at home, health officials say, but in some, the disease can lead to complications including pneumonia, seizures, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart or lung disease.

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