Flu deaths escalate, including children and elderly

Flu season is still escalating and proving particularly deadly for children.

Friday, the Centers for Disease Control reported 16 new flu deaths among kids this week, bringing the nationwide total to 53 youngsters. The CDC reports about half those children had been healthy, with no pre-existing conditions making them more vulnerable to influenza. 

And only one in five who died were vaccinated.  Around the country, families are lining up for flu shots. 

"Hearing about how the flu is actually worse this year, there's more people catching it, I really wanted them to get their flu shot to prevent it as much as possible,” said parent Kristina Horneck as she waited to get her children inoculated.

It's week ten of the flu season, typically the half way point. And although cases in the west show signs of leveling off, that's not the case in other regions. 

"Hospitalizations are the highest we've seen, even higher than 2014-2015," said Anne Schuchat, CDC Acting Director. "And some hospitals are crowded, some folks are having difficulty finding anti-viral medicines."

Flu tallies don't include victims over 65, like two brothers found deceased in a camper in Moraga last month. The Contra Costa County coroner now says they died of "natural causes" and both had influenza in their systems. 

Gary Armstrong, 67, worked as a caretaker on the ranch property. His brother Richard Armstrong was 65. The friend who found the men said they had been feeling ill for some time. 
And this year the flu is particularly vicious. 

"The H3N2 virus is predominant this year and it is one of the nastiest viruses, " Dr. Runjhun Misra said.

Misra practices internal medicine in the East Bay. Her advice? "listen to your body".  

"People don't necessarily come in with a high fever, they're coming in coughing," Dr. Misra said. “They're just not feeling right, feeling like a truck hit them, and then they're testing positive for the flu."   

Misra says the flu vaccine is only ten percent effective preventing the dominant strain, but it can make symptoms milder, and may ward off four other strains that are circulating.  

"There are enough anti-viral medicines nationally, but there are some spot shortages,” warned the CDC director. “There are things everyone can do. It's important to stay home when you're sick."  

California's newest flu numbers are staggering. At least 30 people under the age of 65 died just last week. That brings the total number of deaths this season in the state to 127. And in the Bay Area, there have been at least 22 recorded deaths. 

Experts say some common-sense precautions go a long way in prevention.  

"Be more careful than usual, " said Misra. “I can't stress enough how important hand-washing is, how important wearing a mask is, and if you use a tissue throw it away immediately."

She also recommends disinfecting counters, phones, TV remotes, and anything else a flu-sufferer handles because the virus can survive on surfaces for a few days.