Nine new flu-related deaths were confirmed across the Bay Area on Wednesday, bringing the number of fatal cases to 29 as the onset of peak flu season loomed over the region.
Three of the nine deaths were reported in Contra Costa County, where two men -- one in his 30s and one in his 50s -- and a woman in her 60s died from an unknown strain of the virus, health department spokeswoman Kate Fowlie said. The confirmation that their deaths were flu-related increased Contra Costa's number of fatal cases to five, as San Mateo and San Francisco counties reported their fourth and second deaths, respectively.
Officials also reported that two deaths were confirmed Friday and Tuesday in Sonoma County, doubling their total of fatal cases to four, and Santa Clara County officials reported their fifth and sixth deaths.
No further information was made available about the nine victims, and officials did not immediately confirm that they died from swine flu, had underlying conditions or received a flu vaccination.
The nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County have reported 29 flu-related deaths since the beginning of the flu season. Alameda County has reported three deaths, Marin County has reported two, and Solano, Napa and Santa Cruz counties each have reported one death.
State health officials expressed growing concern Friday over the number of deaths reported only four months into flu season, saying that the number of fatal cases statewide is rapidly approaching last year's entire total. Officials were alarmed at the prospect of approaching 100 deaths so early in the season, when the number was just five at this time last year.
State officials said that a large majority of the fatal flu victims were unvaccinated or had underlying conditions that put them at increased risk and that most of the victims succumbed to the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu.
"This appears to be a pretty severe season in terms of looking at mortality as a measure of severity." said Gil Chavez, deputy director and epidemiologist for the CDPH. "We do know that, unlike previous years, H1N1 is the predominant strain circulating, and when H1N1 predominates, there appears to be more fatalities."
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In all, the nine Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County have reported 29 flu-related deaths this season as of Jan. 22:
Alameda County: 3
Contra Costa County: 5
Marin County: 2
Napa County: 1
San Francisco County: 2
San Mateo County: 4
Santa Clara County: 6
* Santa Cruz County: 1
Solano County: 1
Sonoma County: 4
* Santa Cruz County isn't included in the official designation of nine Bay Area counties.