Elena Palacios, 75, left, and Donina Gramillo, 77, wait to get flu shots… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
Nearly 800 people in California were hospitalized with the H1N1 flu last week, the largest one-week number of hospitalizations since flu cases began escalating this fall, state officials said Thursday.
The number indicates that H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, continues to be widespread throughout California and remains a significant threat to public health. Health experts have said there could be a second wave of cases in the coming months.
"Pandemics are very unpredictable. . . . We cannot turn our back and be complacent," said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health's Center for Infectious Diseases.
In the week that ended Nov. 28, 794 people in California were hospitalized or had died, according to reports received by the state that week. The figures were higher than the previous week's total of 405, and topped the previous high -- 773 -- recorded for the week that ended on Halloween.
Reported deaths, however, decreased last week compared with the previous week. There were 12 H1N1 deaths reported last week and 36 the previous week.
Local hospital officials have attributed the decline in new H1N1 cases in part to vaccination efforts and to immunity in individuals who have survived an H1N1 infection.
Chavez urged the public to continue to seek inoculations, even though many people have been frustrated by widespread vaccine shortages. An estimated 3 million Californians have been sickened by the H1N1 virus, and Chavez estimated that 8 million doses of H1N1 vaccine have been given in the state.
So far this year, more than 7,000 Californians have been hospitalized because of H1N1 flu.
A total of 366 people have died from the strain, including 42 children and 13 pregnant women.
Earlier this week, federal officials said H1N1 flu continued to exact a heavy toll in hospitalizations and deaths, especially among children. From April to Nov. 21, there were 234 pediatric deaths from the flu; a normal flu season is marked by about 30 to 40 pediatric deaths.