| SACRAMENTO, Calif.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Jan 31 An unusually severe
flu season has claimed the lives of at least 147 young and
middle-aged people in California - 10 times the number killed by
influenza viruses by the same time last year, public health
officials said on Friday.
The California deaths were caused by a strain of the
influenza virus that is sending sufferers across the nation to
the doctor for flu-like symptoms at rates that are 50 percent
higher than normal, said Lyn Finelli, head of the influenza
surveillance and outbreak response team at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
"That's way above the norm for flu," Finelli said. "It tells
us we're still in the middle of flu season, and in the Northeast
and California it's going up, up, up."
The flu strain responsible for the California deaths, H1N1,
also predominates nationwide this year. It hits people hardest
between the ages of 25 and 64, partly because some older people
are believed to have more immunity due to similar outbreaks many
In California, 52 people died last week alone, including one
child, the state's chief of communicable disease control told
reporters on a conference call Friday.
"This influenza season continues to be a severe one as the
increasing number of influenza-related deaths indicates," Ron
Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health,
said in a statement, urging Californians to get vaccinated.
In addition to the 147 confirmed California flu-related
fatalities this season among people under age 65, another 44
suspected flu deaths remain under investigation, said Dr. James
Watt, chief of the state's Division of Communicable Disease
Control. Most of those felled by the disease had other health
conditions, but not all, he said.
Last year at the same time, the state had recorded just 14
flu deaths among Californians under age 65.
The death of a 47-year-old television advertising executive
in the state's capital city prompted a renewed call for
residents to become vaccinated against flu. Sacramento County,
with 21 deaths so far, leads the state in fatalities.
"After reading the heartbreaking story of Nancy Pinnella,
went to CVS and got my first flu shot ever," California's first
lady, Anne Gust Brown, posted on Twitter.
It is not fully clear whether California is an outlier in
the severity of its cases, because states are not required to
report flu deaths to the CDC, and data is collected differently
from state to state and county to county, said CDC spokesman
The fatality data that the public health agency does
collect, on pediatric deaths, is not useful in studying H1N1,
because the virus is more likely to attack adults, Finelli said.
The public health agency does, however collect information
on why people go to the doctor, and whether they are
hospitalized for flu. Those signs, she said, show that this
year's flu is likely to continue to hit hard.
Although the number of cases nationwide appears to have
plateaued, she said, that does not take into account that
California and the Northeast are lagging other areas with a late
Meanwhile, CDC data does show that far more people under the
age of 65 are being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms than
last year. As of last week, for example, 76 percent of those
hospitalized for flu were under age 65, compared to less than 50
percent last year.
Nationwide, the data shows that somewhat fewer people have
contracted flu so far this year than last year, Finelli said.
This year's strain, however, appears to be causing severe
illness in a population that is more typically robust, she said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and