The flu epidemic continues to take lives in California, but experts say it does appear to have peaked, according to data released Friday by the California Department of Public Health.
There were 41 more confirmed flu-related deaths this season through the week ending Feb. 7th, according to Ron Chapman, director of the department. That brings the seasonal toll to 243, with another 41 deaths under investigation. There were 55 confirmed flu deaths for the week that ended Feb. 1st.
State health experts believe the number of new flu cases peaked about four weeks ago. Along with the declining death rate, they say the number of flu-related hospital visits appears to be growing more slowly.
"The downward trend in the number of influenza cases is a good sign, but the season is far from over," warned Chapman. He reiterated his message that vaccination "is still the best way to prevent illness and the spread of illness." Pregnant women, infants, and people with other medical issues are most at risk.
A total of 106 people died last flu season.
Most cases this season have shown signs of the H1N1 virus, which was responsible for the 2009 pandemic that killed 539 people statewide. In addition, more young people have been affected than usual, according to health officials.
Underlying medical issues, such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic heart or lung disease, have contributed to most of the flu deaths, experts said. Four of those who died were children. State death data do not include flu fatalities of those over 65.
Local hospitals continue to be on high alert. Many are handing out surgical masks to all guests and some have restricted children from visiting at all.