Flu deaths in California continue to rise

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The flu continues to sweep across California, accounting for 95 confirmed deaths with 51 more deaths still being investigated, officials said Friday.

“By this time last year, we had received reports of nine total fatalities,” said Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health, referring to confirmed flu deaths.

Chavez attributed much of the severity of the season to the dominance of the H1N1 virus, the same swine flu that caused a pandemic in 2009. He noted the virus tends to cause more severe illnesses than other flu viruses. It also wreaks harm not only on young children and the very old but on younger adults who have pre-existing health conditions like obesity or illnesses that weaken immunities, he said.

Chavez said doctors and hospitals that help state officials monitor the flu activity reported that hospitalizations and outpatient treatment went down for the week ending Jan. 18 compared to the previous week.

“It’s too early to tell if that’s a trend,” he said, noting that even with the decrease hospitalizations are higher than expected levels.

Chavez urged people to get vaccinated.

“The flu vaccine is absolutely safe. It’s not going to give you the flu,” he said.

None of the 95 confirmed deaths came from Ventura County, though fatalities were reported in nearby Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Kern counties. In some local doctor’s offices and schools, officials said they’ve seen flu symptoms but have not been hit by a flood of confirmed cases.

“So far we’ve seen very few flu cases,” said Ginger Riggins, district nurse for the Santa Paula Unified School District. “They’re just now starting to surface.”

For information on county flu clinics, go to http://bit.ly/1bCNV64.

For a vaccine locator tool, go to http://flushot.healthmap.org/.

This story will be updated.