LOS ANGELES — Seven people have died from the flu so far this season, and more people are ending up in the hospital than expected as flu season ramps up, state health officials said Friday.
The California Department of Public Health said flu activity is now considered widespread, though it's too soon to know if this year will be severe.
Flu season in the state typically peaks in February or March, but state health officials said they're already seeing deaths and hospitalizations slightly earlier than usual.
The number of deaths is "rising rapidly," state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez said.
Besides the seven confirmed deaths, officials were investigating an additional 28 deaths to determine if the flu is to blame.
All victims were under 65 years old, and none of this season's flu deaths so far were children. The state does not keep track of flu deaths among the elderly, who are most vulnerable to the illness and its complications.
The dominant strain appears to be H1N1, which mostly affects young and middle-aged people. Of the seven who died, six were infected with the swine flu strain, health officials said.
In 2009, a swine flu pandemic killed at least 150,000 people worldwide, including more than 600 in California.
Chavez said the latest vaccine is a match to the types of viruses that are circulating, including H1N1, and urged people to get immunized before it's too late.
In Imperial County, 32 people were hospitalized with pneumonia and flu-like symptoms in the past two weeks — three times more than normal for this time of year. Most were elderly and children, and many were not vaccinated, according to the Imperial County Public Health Department.
At the Regional Medical Center in San Jose, doctors set up an overflow tent outside the emergency room to treat flu patients who are ill but don't need to be hospitalized.
The hospital typically treats 160 patients a day. Lately, doctors are seeing an extra 50 to 70 people a day — many with the flu. Treating patients in the tent allows them to get processed faster and return home, hospital spokeswoman Bev Mikalonis said.
"We're just trying to get ready for when and if we get hit harder than we are now," she said.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 35 states are seeing an uptick in flu symptoms, including fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough and muscle aches.