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Flu spreads in California; 7 deaths confirmed

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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 flu 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 and urged people to get immunized before it's too late.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that at least 35 states are seeing an uptick in flu symptoms.

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