In the wake of several swine flu deaths that rang alarm bells across the region last week, four fatal flu cases were reported Thursday across four Bay Area counties.
The deaths marked the first fatal flu cases in San Mateo, Alameda and Sonoma counties, while Santa Clara County reported its second death in just over two weeks, health officials said. And of the 10 deaths reported so far this season between six Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County, seven are confirmed H1N1 cases, officials said.
While health officials say the H1N1 strain is resurfacing with dangerous consequences this season, they add that they are seeing an uptick in all flu activity as compared to the same time last year.
"We are still several weeks away from the peak of flu season," said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow, who added that peak season is late January through March. "The fact that we are seeing an increase in flu activity, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths should motivate us to take action now and get a flu shot to prevent the most serious effects of the flu."
The first case reported Thursday, a San Mateo County woman in her 40s, was followed shortly after by a 61-year-old Santa Clara County man who had an underlying medical condition, said Amy Cornell, health information officer for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. And while officials could not confirm whether six other flu patients hospitalized in San Mateo County intensive care units were suffering from the H1N1 strain, Cornell said six of the 12 flu-related patients who have been hospitalized in Santa Clara County recently were confirmed to have swine flu.
Sonoma County health officials reported a 23-year-old man died of the H1N1 virus despite being previously healthy. And while Alameda County officials made little information available about their case, they confirmed Thursday that one person had died from the flu in their county.
Santa Cruz County health officials on Wednesday confirmed two flu-related deaths. Also on Wednesday, Marin County officials reported two flu deaths: a 63-year-old man with significant chronic medical conditions died on Dec. 27 and a 48-year-old previously healthy woman died on Monday. While tests are pending, both are suspected swine flu cases.
And over the weekend, Sacramento County reported the flu-related deaths of a woman in her 30s and a man in his 50s.
The deaths come on the heels of several others reported in the Bay Area last week, when two H1N1 deaths were confirmed between Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties. A 48-year-old woman died of swine flu in the East Bay last week, as did a 41-year-old woman in Santa Clara County.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that the flu is in full swing nationally. The latest CDC figures from the final week of 2013 show widespread flu activity in 25 states, including the Pacific Northwest and Nevada, and most of the country's biggest states, including Texas, New York and Illinois.
In the 2009-10 flu season, 284,000 people died worldwide from swine flu, including 657 ¿Californians.
Officials urge all residents 6 months and older to get vaccinated, especially pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions at higher risk for severe influenza. This season's vaccine, which takes about two weeks to take effect, protects against the H1N1 strain, and officials added that unlike other preventable disease vaccines, it is necessary to get a flu shot annually to keep oneself protected.
In addition to seeking a flu shot, residents can take preventive action by consistently washing hands, avoiding interaction with sick people, and learning the signs of influenza and seeking treatment once they appear.
For more information about the flu, visit www.smchealth.org/flu.