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Flu deaths increase as season peaks
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The number of influenza-related deaths continues to rise across the state and locally, however, health officials are cautiously optimistic the peak of the virus may have passed.

The number of confirmed influenza related deaths in California has increased by 41 to a total of 243 confirmed deaths for the 2013-14 season, the California Department of Public Health announced Friday. Four of the 243 are pediatric deaths. There are an additional 41 deaths under investigation, not yet confirmed.

Stanislaus County’s death toll rose from 12 to 13, according to the health department. The county has the sixth highest rate of deaths in the state, surpassing larger counties, like San Francisco and Long Beach. Stanislaus County historically has had low flu vaccination rates, which could account for the higher rate, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.

The 243 confirmed influenza-associated deaths this season have been reported by the following jurisdictions: Alameda (6), Contra Costa (6), El Dorado (2), Fresno (17), Glenn (1), Humboldt (1), Imperial (1), Kern (10), Kings (3), Lake (1), Lassen (1), Long Beach (5), Los Angeles (33), Madera (2), Marin (2), Mendocino (4), Merced (4), Monterey (2), Nevada (1), Orange (9), Riverside (9), Sacramento (23), San Benito (1), San Bernardino (18), San Diego (19), San Francisco (3), San Joaquin (6), San Luis Obispo (1), San Mateo (5), Santa Barbara (2), Santa Clara (12), Santa Cruz (3), Shasta (2), Siskiyou (2), Solano (2), Sonoma (7), Stanislaus (13), Tulare (2), Tuolumne (1), and  Ventura (1).

By this time last year, CDPH had received reports of a total of 26 influenza fatalities and in all of the 2012-13 season, a total of 106 deaths were reported. 

The great majority of reported influenza deaths in persons under 65 years of age have occurred in people with underlying medical conditions, according to the CDPH. Most of those with reported influenza deaths had onset of illness in previous weeks. The vast majority of flu deaths this season have been from the H1N1 strain that in 2009 reached a pandemic level.

 Looking at the onset of illness, the number of deaths by week appears to be decreasing, the CDPH reported. Both outpatient visits and hospitalizations have decreased, and hospitalizations are within levels that would be expected at 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,” said Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer. “Unfortunately, this influenza season is still severe and the number of influenza related deaths continues to rise. Vaccination is still the best way to prevent illness and the spread of illness.”

Those at highest risk - the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or those with other health conditions - who show flu symptoms should contact their physician immediately in order to get the most effective treatment. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Influenza vaccine remains available and there is no widespread shortage of anti-virals for treatment. 

People can still receive the flu vaccine to be protected this year. Typically, the flu season peaks in February and March in Stanislaus County and the flu vaccine only takes two weeks to become fully effective.

People should check with their primary care provider or local pharmacy for vaccine availability. Vaccinations are also offered at the Stanislaus County Public Health Department for $10 per child (6 months through 18 years) and $25 per adult. Flu vaccines are provided to the public during the hours of 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Public Health building located at 820 Scenic Drive in Modesto.