State officials: 95 flu deaths statewide, ahead of last year

State public officials reported Friday that the flu has officially claimed the lives of 95 people younger than 65 across the state, with more than half of those deaths occurring in one week's time.

For the period between Jan. 12 and ending Jan. 18, 50 people in this age range across the state died of complications from the flu virus, with 38 lab-confirmed deaths reported during the previous week, officials said Friday during the state health department's weekly flu surveillance report.

Officials reported that the dominant flu strain continues to be H1N1 virus and that it is genetically identical to the virus that caused the swine flu outbreak of 2009.

"So far, we have a much more severe season. The totality of deaths last year was 106 ... We're in a pace to way exceed the number of deaths we had last year," state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez said during a conference call with reporters.

But there was one bit of potential good news reported during the state's weekly flu report.

Chavez said the percentage of outpatient visits for influenzalike illness has decreased across the state for the second week in a row. Chavez said the finding was promising but added that it's still too early to tell whether it represents a trend.

Karen Holbrook, Sonoma County's interim public health officer, said Friday she was hopeful that the share of of outpatient flu illness would continue to decline.

"I felt the downturn in influenzalike illness a second week in a row was hopeful news," said Holbrook, who also listened in on the conference. "But I'm definitely concerned because it's too early to tell if this is a trend that will hold."

Chavez said that aside from the 95 confirmed flu deaths, there were another 51 flu deaths that have yet to be confirmed. The toll could be as high as 146, far exceeding last year's toll, he said.

Because of the one-week lag in the state surveillance data, the 95 reported deaths does not include deaths that occurred within the past week.

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