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California flu deaths continue to rise

A boy is vaccinated during the vaccination campaign against Influenza A H1N1 Virus (swine flu) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, 2011.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The state epidemiologist recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get the flu vaccine.

The California Department of Public Health says deaths from the flu are still on the rise, in what’s turning out to be an especially severe season for the virus.

As of January 18th, the Department of Public Health had confirmed 95 flu-related deaths statewide, including three children. Officials say they are investigating an additional 51 cases, bringing the likely total to nearly 150, with at least a couple of months left to go in flu season.

"The totality of deaths last year was 106," Gil Chavez, the state epidemiologist, said Friday. "So as you can see we’re on a pace to way exceed the number of deaths we had last year."

By this time last year, the state had only confirmed 9 flu-related deaths.

Chavez said the main reason for the severity of this year's flu season is that the powerful H1N1 strain of the flu is predominating.

"H1N1 causes more severe disease and more deaths," Chavez said.

Even with the high official death toll, the state figures paint an incomplete picture of all deaths statewide. The flu is known to hit older people especially hard, but counties are only required to report flu deaths for people under 65.

Chavez said that among the 95 people confirmed dead because of the flu, many had other health problems, making them especially vulnerable to the virus. Only about 20 percent had been vaccinated.

Chavez said while the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s usually between 60-80 percent effective, so he urged all Californians over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot.