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Here it comes: California reporting widespread flu illnesses

January 18, 2013 | 12:09 pm

The severe flu that spread across the U.S. has arrived in California and is causing illnesses and hospitalizations in much of the state, even as it begins to subside elsewhere in the country, public health officials said Friday. 

"Flu activity in California has reached a widespread level," said Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health. "We are seeing reports of flu activity in most regions in the state."

The state's number of outpatient visits and hospitalizations is higher than normal for mid-January, signaling either an early start to the Caliornia flu season or a sign that this year's flu could be more severe than usual, Chavez said. The flu typically peaks in late February or early March, he said.

Five Californians under the age of 65 have died from this year's flu. Chavez said the department is not able to track flu deaths of people over the age of 65.

Nationwide, seniors have been particularly hard hit by this year's flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 90% of flu-related deaths are among people age 65 and older. Hospitalization rates among that population have increased sharply for two weeks in a row, according to the CDC.

The CDC announced Friday that the flu is starting to decline throughout much of the nation. "Overall, activity is beginning to go down," said Tom Frieden, director of the agency. 

Nevertheless, hospitalization rates and deaths are expected to climb over the next few weeks as the flu progresses. California and other Western states are still seeing a rise in cases and likely still have most of the flu season yet to come, he said. 

Frieden said it's crucial for patients with the flu to get prompt treatment with medication such as Tamiflu, but that across the nation, many people are not getting the care they need. "We are not doing as well as we should be doing in getting people treated promptly," he said.  

Those who have not yet been vaccinated for the flu are still being encouraged to do so. Although there have been spot shortages of the vaccine, there is still supply available.  

"Although the flu vaccine is far from perfect, it is by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza," Frieden said. 

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-- Anna Gorman 

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