Health officials are urging people to get vaccinated in the wake of recent flu-related deaths and a new strain of the H1N1 virus, which this year appears to be affecting a younger-than-normal population.
Dr. Gil Chavez, a state Dept. of Health epidemiologist, said on Friday that doctors can't yet figure out why younger people are dying this year as a result of the flu.
Officially, the state has counted seven people who have died from the flu so far this season, although county health departments may have higher numbers that have not yet been accounted for at the state level.
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Two more flu-related deaths were confirmed by health department officials in Alameda County on Friday afternoon.
The state health department is is investigating an additional 28 deaths to determine if the flu is to blame. All victims were under 65 years old.
The state does not keep track of flu deaths in people older than 65.
So far this season, in the Bay Area, at least 13 cases of swine flu-related deaths have been confirmed by officials:
- San Francisco County: 1
- Marin County: 2
- Sonoma County: 1
- Alameda County: 3
- Contra Costa County: 1
- Santa Clara County: 2
- San Mateo County: 1
- Santa Cruz County: 2
“What’s different this year is this time last year we did not have any deaths, so it looks like we are getting severe flu and an early start this year,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer.
While flu activity is up around the state, health officials said it's not an unexpected increase. Flu season typically peaks in February or March.
The dominant strain this season is the H1N1 strain, which mostly affects young and middle-aged people. In 2009, a swine flu pandemic killed at least 150,000 people worldwide.
And doctors insist getting a flu shot makes people more resistant to this strain
"The fact that we are seeing an increase in flu activity, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths should motivate us to take action now and get a flu shot to prevent the most serious effects of the flu," said Dr. Scott Morrow, Health Officer for San Mateo County.
Due to high demand, some spots are running low on the flu vaccine. Kaiser issued a statement, saying, “Over the past few days we have experienced some spot shortages of vaccine and are moving available supplies between facilities to meet our demand.” The hospital says thousands of new doses are expected to arrive Monday.
A few Bay Area Walgreens stores also ran out of flu vaccines, but a company spokesman says most stores still have plenty of vaccine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.