LOS ANGELES: Sharp Rise In Flu-Related Deaths
"At least 798 people died of influenza or pneumonia in Los Angeles in December, a 20% increase from the 667 deaths in December 1996," said the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. L.A. County hospitals "were overwhelmed with patients seeking flu treatment in the latter part of December." Patients who had had flu vaccines were not protected against the new strain, which is known as "A Sydney" (Los Angeles Times, 1/29). The Sacramento Bee notes that because many deaths from flu show up as other causes on death certificates "[t]rying to pin down the impact of the flu alone is always a complex undertaking." The dramatic increase in the Los Angeles area was "revealed only by a special investigation into emergency room overcrowding." Further, "many flu deaths elude tracking because there are no requirements that health agencies report flu cases and because many patients never see a doctor" (Allen, 1/29).
Tracing the Problem
According to KNBC News, Dr. David Dassey, deputy chief of acute communicable disease control, said that he has asked the state for death certificates "for the past several years so the county can develop a historical perspective to determine whether the 1997-98 flu season deaths are higher than normal" (1/28). This task is further complicated by tallies that "remain incomplete for months," the Bee notes (1/29).