State health officials reported Friday that fatalities from influenza now stand at 95 statewide -- with another 51 deaths reported from local jurisdictions under investigation.
That brings the total to 146 deaths -- more than the 106 deaths California had during all of last year's flu season.
"We so far have a much more severe season," said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez with the California Department of Public Health. A child in Riverside County was among last week's fatalities, bringing to three the number of fatalities in children statewide. All of them were under age 10.
Chavez noted that the H1N1 strain is the culprit and says the strain causes more severe disease and more deaths. In addition, it tends to hit younger people harder, in particular those with pre-existing health conditions.
While doctor's office visits and hospitalizations for flu were fewer last week than the week prior, Chavez said it was impossible to know if the flu season is peaking. "It's too early to tell whether or not it's a trend," Chavez told reporters in a media call Friday morning. "We know that the flu is rather unpredictable, and it has ebbs and flows."
Chavez urged those who are not vaccinated to get a flu shot, saying that there's good availability of the vaccine statewide and that it is the best way people can protect themselves from the illness. He stressed that people with chronic health conditions are at higher risk and should be vaccinated.
Pregnant women should also get the flu shot, he said. Influenza can cause more serious illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Women can "have a healthier pregnancy and avoid complications" of the flu, he said. Plus the shot may provide some immunity to the fetus as well.
If you've been following this year's flu season, you may have noted that flu deaths are only reported for people under 65. California is the only state that mandates reporting of flu deaths, said Dr. James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control. The surveillance was put in place in the wake of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Flu deaths are more common among people over age 65 and may not be an indication of the severity of the season, health officials say.