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With Unusually High Death Toll, California Flu Cases Reach Peak Levels as Health Officials Urge Getting Vaccinated

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Cases of the flu in California are at peak levels amid an unusually high number of deaths due to the virus this season, state officials said Tuesday as they urged residents to get vaccinated.

Across the state, there's been an increase in the number of flu cases and the count of reported infections appears to be at a seasonal height, officials said. This season, the flu's death toll of 27 is higher than it's been in recent years, the Associated Press reported.

Beth Deenihan administers a flu shot to a construction worker during a drive-thru flu shot clinic Oct. 2, 2009, in Napa. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Beth Deenihan administers a flu shot to a construction worker during a drive-thru flu shot clinic Oct. 2, 2009, in Napa. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California health officials again urged the state's residents to get flu shots if they haven't already.

"Although influenza season usually peaks between December and February, flu activity can occur as late as May, which means it is not too late to get vaccinated," said Karen Smith, director of the State Department of Public Health, in a news release.

While 27 people have died from the flu this season, that number is usually around three or four deaths statewide, Dr. James Watt, chief of the state’s division of communicable disease control, told AP.

In just the last week of December, 10 people in California died from the flu, officials said.

After getting a flu shot, it takes about two weeks for the body to respond and effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year and for different strains of the virus, state health officials said. If a vaccine doesn't manage to prevent infection entirely, it can also alleviate symptoms of the flu.

"If disease does occur after vaccination, the vaccine can reduce the severity of flu symptoms," Smith said.

Health officials also warned about the flu's toll on especially vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant women or children younger than 5 — patients who can end up hospitalized or even face death due to flu-related complications. Other people at increased risk include those over the age of 65, people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease and especially children under the age of  2.

Such higher risk individuals should contact a health care provider if they feel flu-like symptoms in order to be prescribed an antiviral drug, officials said, adding that anyone experiencing even more serious symptoms should seek medical attention.

"Anyone who experiences more severe symptoms such as trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, difficulty eating or drinking, or confusion should contact their health care provider or seek emergency care," officials said in a news release.

They also advised taking measures to prevent spreading the flu such as covering coughing and sneezing with a sleeve or tissue, washing one's hands and avoiding touching of the face.