California's flu season has proven to be deadly.
According to health officials, there's no region of the state where people were being spared from the flu. California health officials say flu-related deaths have been higher so far this season than in recent years, raising concerns the illness might prove more severe.
In a conference call Tuesday morning, state health officials gave an update on the widespread issue and how to combat the illness.
Here's what you need to know:
1. There's been 27 flu-related deaths so far.
State health officials say 27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October. The state typically sees three or four such deaths by this time in the season.
Of those 27 deaths, 70 percent of those people were not vaccinated.
Though the flu killed three Californians by this time last year, 68 people had died from it by the end of February, according to state data.
2. Flu season started earlier than normal.
Dr. James Watt, the state's chief CDC official, said flu season began in early November.
Medical experts say this year's flu season may be outpacing last year's because it's peaking earlier. The flu season is typically at its worst around February.
"Flu activity can occur as late as May," Watt said.
Still, many doctors say the recent surge in flu cases have been unusually severe.
3. Get your flu shot.
National health officials predict the flu vaccine may only be about 32 percent effective this year. But most people in California and the rest of the country are catching a particularly dangerous strain of influenza that the vaccine typically doesn't work well against.
"It will lessen the symptoms, it will lessen the complications," Dr. Gil Chavez with California's Department of Public Health said.
Meanwhile the preferred drug to treat the flu, known as Tamiflu, has been hard to find at many California pharmacies.
CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot said increased demand for Tamiflu in California may have led to some stores being temporarily out of stock. Other pharmacies reported that they were running low on the medicine or were out completely.
There isn't a national shortage of Tamiflu, suggesting that pharmacists' shelves were emptied this week by a sudden surge in demand, said Bob Purcell, spokesman for the San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company Genentech, which makes the drug.
While Tamiflu doesn't eliminate influenza, it can lessen the severity of symptoms and how long they last. It works best when taken within two days of when patients start to feel sick.
For those who haven't gotten the flu, health officials recommend getting the vaccine, washing their hands often and avoiding close contact with anyone coughing or sneezing.
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