The number of deaths in San Luis Obispo County linked to the flu continues to rise, health officials say.
San Luis Obispo County epidemiologist Ann McDowell said Tuesday that the agency has identified 15 deaths of county residents between Dec. 10 and Jan. 30 in which type B influenza is listed as a contributing factor on the death certificate. Two of those deaths were people under the age of 65.
The agency previously reported 10 deaths as of Jan. 11.
Health agencies across the country have reported a dangerously bad flu season this year, and San Luis Obispo County has seen more laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu than usual.
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Because the flu is not a reportable illness, the county health agency does not track exact numbers of cases and is dependent on voluntary information from local hospitals, which say they’ve experienced an increase in emergency room visits due to the flu.
In December, more than 9 percent of emergency room visits were due to unknown, flu-like illnesses at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, according to data provided by the county.
Just under 5 percent of French Hospital emergency visits were flu-related in the same month, more than at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital, which saw roughly 3 percent of their emergency visits in December related to flu.
McDowell did not know why Arroyo Grande Community Hospital saw about twice as many emergency visits for flu than other area hospitals. Representatives for Dignity Health, which operates Arroyo Grande and French hospitals, did not return requests for information Tuesday.
The county confirmed the first flu death of a 56-year-old resident on Jan. 8 and said in a news release that the woman had at least one underlying risk factor that predisposed her to severe complications.
In Santa Barbara County, flu is tied to the deaths of nine people 65 years of age or over, as of Jan. 20. The county’s Deputy Director of Community Health Susan Klein-Rothschild said the agency plans to release updated figures in the coming days.
Health officials urge otherwise healthy people with routine cases of flu to rest and recover at home so that emergency services are available for people with life-threatening complications.
More information on the flu seaon and how to keep yourself healthy can be found at goo.gl/5YKR52.