Emergency room visits from patients with influenza-like illnesses jumped last week, Courtesy of Riverside County Department of Public Health

Through January, the 2012-13 flu season has been worse than normal, particularly for people over 65 years old, but it has not reached epidemic levels.

People reporting influenza-like illnesses has continued to increase, both nationwide and in California. Riverside County officials reported on Friday, Feb. 1, the local indicators are above normal limits.

Nearly 14.2 percent of visits to Riverside County emergency departments were related to influenza-like illnesses in the week ending Jan. 26. In the previous week, about 10 percent of the ER visits were for influenza-like illnesses.

While the percentage of visits to physicians with flu-like symptoms declined slightly week-to-week from 8.6 percent to 7.8 percent, the latter is still above historical data norms. In addition, the percentage of students absent due to illness climbed from 12.6 percent in the week ending Jan. 19 to 14.3 percent in the next week.

While overall indicators are still increasing, the rate of increase has slowed. Nevertheless, federal officials are still worried about this season’s flu spread and effect.

“Far too few adults are being vaccinated against these important diseases,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a flu warning, targeted at seniors. “This flu season is taking the heaviest toll on people 65 or older.” Seniors accounted for more than 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations and 90 percent of the flu-related deaths. But 45 pediatric deaths have also been reported this flu season.

The hospitalization rate for people older than 65 was nearly 115 per 100,000, which is about five times the rate for younger cohorts, except for children under 4 years, whose hospitalization climbed to 36 per 100,000 population.

Nationally, the flu activity is beginning to decline in the East, but still increasing in the West, including California, which continues to report high levels of influenza-like illnesses.