California is past peak flu – but you should still get vaccinated

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The worst of California's rough flu season appears to be over. A senior state public health official says this year’s season reached its disturbingly high peak around New Year's.

People should remain vigilant, however, because "we’re still very much in the middle of it," said Dr. James Watt, Chief of Communicable Disease Control at the California Department of Public Health.

Like in much of the rest of the country, the flu hit California hard this season. By the end of last week, 185 Californians under age 65 had died from flu in the state. By the same time last year, the death toll was 50.

Twenty-two people died in the week ending Feb. 9; in the first week of January, the number was 68.

While California is past its peak, "other parts of the country are still very much at peak levels," said Watt. 

Two flu strains have been the main culprits this season. The most common vaccine was less effective than usual against the most prevalent influenza A strain, H3N2, but Watt said the shot works better against the influenza B strain.

Even at this late point in the flu season, Watt recommends a flu vaccination for those who have not yet gotten it.

Even in the case of H3N2, the shot can help, he said. While it may not prevent an individual from getting sick, it will ease the severity of the flu's symptoms.

"We’ve been seeing literally thousands of people a week going to the hospital because of the flu over the last month or so," said Watt. "If we can cut that down by a third—or if that’s me and I can reduce my risk by a third—that’s a good bet," he said.

Oregon, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Virgins Islands are the only areas of the United States without widespread flu infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday the flu has claimed 84 children’s lives since October.