On Friday, health officials reported a third flu death in Orange County, bringing the total number of flu deaths in California to six this season. The latest death was a 45-year-old female with no underlying medical issues. She died in Santa Ana on Sunday.
Deaths have also been reported in the Sacramento-metro area, the Visalia-Porterville metro area and the Inland Empire.
The California Department of Public Health declared that the flu is now widespread, which means it's in more than half the state. And it's the H3N2 strain, which causes a severe form of the illness.
Dr. James Watt, California's communicable disease chief, says flu activity has seen a sharp increase recently and is expected to peak next month.
The state has seen fairly mild flu seasons over the past two years, but 2013 is expected to be worse. And it's early. This much flu activity is usually not seen until late February or early March.
"In years where we have a predominance of the H3 strength, we tend to see more serious illness, more people being hospitalized, which really speaks to the importance of peole getting vaccinated," said California Department of Public Health State Epidemiologist Dr. Gilberto Chavez.
Because the flu season hasn't peaked in California, doctors say it's not too late to get immunized.
"There is a good match between this year's flu shot and the circulating strain," said Dr. Dean Blumberg, an epidemiology professor at UC Davis. "That doesn't occur every year. It's guesswork to decide what to put in the flu vaccine. But it looks like a pretty good match this year."
There are reported shortages of the flu vaccine, but the state insists that is sporadic, and the vaccine can be found if you keep looking.
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get your flu shot, wash your hands, cover your coughs, and stay home if you're sick.