SACRAMENTO – Sacramento's deadly flu season is finally waning, but experts suggest you still need to get a shot to avoid becoming another victim.
"We're having fewer cases reported to us, but it's also important to remember that the cases are still coming and the hospitals are still impacted," Sacramento County Health officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye said.
Since last week, an additional 35 flu-related deaths have been reported, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Sacramento County has been hard-hit, with its death toll this season now at 25. Los Angeles County, with four times the population, has seen 36 deaths, not even twice the number of Sacramento County. Fresno County, with less than three-quarters the population of Sacramento, has seen 21 deaths. Most of the deaths are from the H1N1 strain of the flu for people under the age of 65, CDPH said. Experts do not know what accounts for the differences.
Experts said if you suddenly begin having more severe symptoms, it's time to see a doctor.
"The symptoms to look out for is if you have such a severe cough that you are having difficulty breathing or if the fever is really high and is not coming down, even with medication," Kasirye said.
Kenny Ricaforte's father, 56-year-old Alberto Ricaforte, of Roseville, got the flu just before Christmas and waited before going to the doctor.
"We made him go the the ER about New Year's Eve, and from there it just kind of collapsed, from just worst to worse, every single day," Ricaforte explained.
Alberto said before his father got sick he was in perfect health.
"Devastated our whole family. I've never had a death in my family close to me," Ricaforte said.
"Young and healthy people have been hit pretty hard," Kasirye said. "So it's important that they take heed as well and not just try to fight it off themselves."
Of the 115 Sacramento County residents who've ended up in an intensive care unit, 90 percent had not had a flu shot.
Kasirye believes the deadly season may have begun to change more minds about the importance of getting a flu shot.
"We have been told that a lot of people who are getting vaccinated now are people who have never thought of getting vaccinated," Kasirye said. "They never thought they were at risk," she said.
So far this season, 278 Californians, including six children, have died from the flu, the worst season since 2009. Another 29 deaths are under investigation, the health department said.
This time last year there were 32 flu-related deaths in California; a total of 106 flu-related deaths were reported during the 2012-2013 flu season.