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UPDATE: California health officials now say flu is widespread; 3rd death reported in OC

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UPDATE 4:27 p.m.: California health officials are reporting a third flu-related death in Orange County, bringing the state's total of this season's flu-related deaths to six.

The victim, according to reports, was a 45 year-old female with no contributing medical issues. 

UPDATE 12:16 p.m.: An epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health says the state’s peak in flu activity usually happens in late February or March. 

“In previous years at this very same time of the year we would expect to see less activity," Gil Chavez said. "So that’s why we believe this is either just an early start to the flu season or might be the beginning of what can be a worse flu season.”

Chavez says the majority of flu cases reported in California this season are the H-3-N-2 strain – the one that tends to make people sicker. He says an increase in H-3 strains may be the link to why several people have died.

PREVIOUSLY: California health officials say flu activity is now widespread throughout the state, and one new death in people under 65 has been reported, bringing this season's death toll to five people.

State communicable disease chief Dr. James Watt says flu activity has seen a steep increase in recent weeks, and is expected to peak in February. California has had fairly mild flu seasons over the past two years, and this year's is expected to be worse.

RELATED: Flu or cold? How to tell what you have

Across the U.S., health officials say nine more deaths of children from the flu have been reported, bringing the total this flu season to 29.

In a typical season, about 100 children die of the flu, so it is not known whether this year will be better or worse than usual.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says half of confirmed flu cases so far are in people 65 and older.

This year's season is earlier than normal and the dominant flu strain is one that tends to make people sicker. The flu is widespread in all states but Tennessee and Hawaii and is starting to ease in some areas.

Health officials say it's not too late to get a flu shot to help protect against the flu.

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