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California flu-related deaths, hospitalizations slowing

Health officials warn, however, the swine flu strain is still a major concern, and hundreds of Californians are still being hospitalized. The vaccine shortage continues.

November 20, 2009|By Rong-Gong Lin II

California health officials reported Thursday that flu- related deaths and hospitalizations slowed last week but emphasized that the H1N1 strain is still a major concern.

Deaths statewide remain in the double digits, and hundreds of people are still being hospitalized each week, authorities said.

"We are still seeing widespread disease throughout the state," said Dr. Mark Horton, state health officer. But, he said, "we have not seen increases week by week."

Many of the outbreaks are spreading in the schools, Horton said.

In California, 21 H1N1- related fatalities were reported last week, down from a peak of 31 the previous week.

In all, 689 people were hospitalized last week for the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu. That figure is higher than the previous week, when 560 were reported, but is down from a peak of 773 for the week that ended on Halloween.

The hospitalization figures include people not hospitalized when they died from the H1N1 flu.

So far this year, 318 people in California have died from the H1N1 flu and more than 6,000 have been hospitalized.

Delays in vaccine distribution continue to be a problem. Officials had predicted that California would receive 6.5 million doses of H1N1 vaccine by the end of October, but because the manufacturing process has been slower than expected, by mid-November the state had received only 5.8 million doses.

That amount covers about one-quarter of the population who are in priority groups for the vaccine, which include toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, adults with medical conditions like asthma and caretakers of infants too young to get the vaccine.

"We are still seeing significant delays in vaccine moving to the state," Horton said. "There will be shortages and delays at the local level."

Almost all of the flu virus circulating in the state and across the nation has been identified as the H1N1 strain.

Officials cautioned against using the leveling off of hospitalizations and deaths as a predictor of how the flu would affect California for the next few months.

"What we've said about this pandemic, it is totally uncharacteristic to what we have seen in the past," Horton said. "We are continuing to describe [what happens] on a week-by-week basis . . . but it would be inappropriate at this time to try to predict what's going to happen."

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