California has been among the hardest hit states this influenza season and a report out this week says that the death toll from the dangerous virus has risen to 302, including six children, in the state. Officials report that Los Angeles County has seen the most deadly cases, with 44 fatalities reported within its borders alone.
Despite this rise in the number of deaths from the flu, up 24 from a report the previous week, experts do say that the number of newly identified cases are waning, as outpatient visits resulting in diagnosis and hospitalizations due to the flu appear to be on the decline both in California and around the nation.
The 2013-2014 flu season arrived early and now appears to be departing early as well, good news for those in fear of contracting the potentially deadly influenza virus. California saw the number of flu cases peak within its borders from late January to early February when, on average, 50 lives were lost to the disease each week.
Despite the recent decline, when compared to the 2012-2013 flu season, this year’s flu appears to have been drastically more deadly. By this time last flu season, only 34 deaths had been attributed to influenza in California, and only a total of 106 were reported by the state for the entire season.
It is the H1N1 strain of the flu, also referred to as the swine flu, that has dominated this season, not only in California, but around the country. This is the same deadly strain that took the lives of thousands in the epidemic of 2009. H1N1 and other strains of the flu are considered particularly dangerous for the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with an underlying health condition. However, H1N1 is notable for its increased tendency to impact younger adults, those between the ages of 18-64, and those who are normally quite healthy othewise.
In its most recent weekly flu report, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided a nationwide update on which states continue to be hard hit by influenza, and California is no longer at the top of the list. CDC data indicates that the states of Hawaii, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Texas are now seeing the highest incidences of new flu cases, though nationwide the downward diagnosis trend continues.
The CDC also reported more than 7,000 hospitalizations resulting from confirmed cases of the flu since the season officially began on Oct. 1. Of those, more than 60 percent were adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and the vast majority of cases were attributable to the H1Ni strain of the virus. National data on the total number of deaths from the flu is not maintained, however, data on the number of pediatric deaths is, with this year’s nationwide total of pediatric deaths attributable to the flu currently at 61, nine having occurred during the week of the CDC’s most recent update.
Even in the face of a declining number of cases of the flu, California officials and the CDC continue to recommend the influenza vaccination to ensure protection against the hard hitting disease for anyone over the age of six months. It is recommended that the vaccine be sought out as soon as possible as it can take up to two weeks to take become fully effective.
By Michele Wessel