Forty-one young and middle-aged Californians died from the flu this week, showing signs of a statewide taper while more than doubling the number of deaths reported all of last year.
The newly-confirmed deaths bring the statewide total of fatal flu cases to 243 with another 41 under investigation, health officials said. Twenty-six people died from the flu by this time last year, about a quarter of the 106 reported through last year's entire flu season.
Despite the much higher total less than halfway through the season, state health officials said the number of deaths appear to be decreasing and hospitalizations have tapered to normal levels for this time of the year.
"The downward trend in the number of influenza cases is a good sign, but the season is far from over," said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health. "Unfortunately, this influenza season is still severe and the number of influenza related deaths continues to rise."
Chapman added that the "great majority" of fatal flu victims had underlying medical conditions that rendered them more susceptible to the illness, and that most of them died from the H1N1 strain. Of the 243 deaths statewide, four of the victims were children.
To date, Los Angeles County has reported the highest number of fatal flu cases in the state with 33, followed by Sacramento County with 23 and San Diego County with 19 deaths, Chapman said.
Of the 51 deaths reported in the Bay Area, Santa Clara County reported the highest number, 14 as of Friday.
Contra Costa, Alameda and San Mateo County health officials also reported new fatal flu cases this week, bringing their total number of deaths to six in each of their counties. Sonoma County has reported seven fatal flu cases, San Francisco, Solano and Santa Cruz counties have reported three, Marin County has reported two, and Napa has confirmed one death.
Chapman reiterated that it is not too late for anyone to get vaccinated, especially those at highest risk -- the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and those with heart and lung conditions. Residents should see their doctor immediately upon showing flu symptoms, which include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
The vaccine, which protects from this season's rampant strain of swine flu, remains readily available statewide and may be offered at little to no cost by local health departments, Chapman said. There is no widespread shortage of anti-virals for treatment, and the CDPH continues to monitor the supply of vaccine and anti-virals in relation to statewide flu activity.
In all, the nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County have reported 51 flu-related deaths this season as of Feb. 14, 2014:
Alameda County: 6
Contra Costa County: 6
Marin County: 2
Napa County: 1
San Francisco County: 3
San Mateo County: 6
Santa Clara County: 14
* Santa Cruz County: 3
Solano County: 3
Sonoma County: 7
* Santa Cruz County isn't included in the official designation of nine Bay Area counties.