The flu that has sickened people across the country is finally being seen in patients across California, federal, state and local health care officials said Friday.
The first Bay Area flu-related death of the season was reported in Santa Clara County this week. Health officials confirmed that a 98-year-old woman who died earlier this month suffered from the flu and pneumonia.
State health officials said Thursday one death occurred in the Central Valley, two in the greater Los Angeles area, and one in the Sacramento area.
"As the new year has been progressing, so has influenza activity," said Dr. Gil Chavez, chief epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health. "Flu activity in California has reached widespread levels."
Just last week, federal officials had said California had so far escaped a flu season that had caused illnesses across 47 states.
But now doctors are seeing influenza cases across the Golden State.
"The level of activity reported exceeds what would be expected for this time of the year. This may be an indication of an earlier start to a flu season with an earlier flu activity pear, or it could also mean this will prove to be a more severe flu season," Chavez said Friday.
Also Friday, the food and drug administration just approved an new egg free flu shot, called Flu Bok. Researchers at the vaccine study center in Oakland, tested it in clinical trials.
"The response was great. Just as well with the new virus as typical vaccine," Dr. Roger Baxter said.
Doctors say it can be made much more quickly than the current time consuming method of growing the flu vaccine in chicken eggs. That could mean a big payoff to all americans in the event of a flu epidemic.
"So we can produce this in large vats in huge amounts so not longer will we need to ask is there going to be enough flu vaccine anymore," Baxter said.
Statewide, only five deaths for adults 18 to 64 have been reported, and no child deaths, according to CDPH spokesman Ken August. Those figures come from county departments of public health and may not reflect the most recent data from each county, August said, and they do not include Friday's report of an additional death in Orange County.
August stressed that counties are only required to report deaths for those under 65, and that the vast majority of deaths occur in older populations.
“There's lots of, lots of flu deaths that are not reported," August said. "There are probably others. In fact, We're sure there are many others.”
The state has not reported any deaths among children from California from flu, he said.
Nationwide, 29 children have died from the flu, including nine this week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.
Meanwhile, federal and state officials said they were still getting reports of spot shortages of the flu vaccine. Manufacturers said they've distributed about 129 million doses of 145 million doses that will be available this flu season, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said. Some formulations may be out of stock, especially those used for younger children.
Some types of Tamiflu, which is used to treat flu symptoms, are also in short supply, CDC officials said.
"You can still protect yourself through vaccination, particularly for folks out west, you have most of the flu season still to come," Frieden said.
He urged those who have symptoms to stay home from work, and to keep affected children home from school.