BY SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- Flu activity is now widespread throughout California and a new death among people under 65 has been reported, bringing this season's death toll to five people, officials said Thursday.
Flu activity has seen a steep increase in recent weeks and is expected to peak in February, according to Dr. James Watt, chief of the state health department's Division of Communicable Disease Control.
California has had fairly mild flu seasons over the past two years, and this year's is expected to be worse.
"If you're experiencing any symptoms -- a fever and a sore throat or a cough -- it's really a good idea to stay home," Watt said.
To date, the state has recorded deaths in the Sacramento metro area, the Visalia-Porterville metro area and the Inland Empire, along with two deaths in greater Los Angeles.
Watts urges vulnerable Californians -- including the elderly, pregnant women and children -- to get flu shots, and advises everyone to wash their hands frequently and cover coughs.
The state's reporting period covers through Jan. 12, and only includes flu death victims under age 65. Seniors often have multiple ailments, making it difficult to pinpoint flu as a cause of death.
Counties report their deaths to the state, which in turn reports to the federal level -- and reporting can take some time and need to meet different standards at each level.
For example, San Diego County reports six deaths, but the state hasn't recorded any deaths there yet, which could indicate a lag or an alternate reporting style that includes seniors.