SACRAMENTO (AP) – Flu-related deaths in California have been higher so far this season than in recent years, raising concerns the illness might prove more severe, health officials said Tuesday.

Dr. James Watt, chief of the state’s division of communicable disease control, said flu season began about a month earlier than usual and it’s too soon to know if it will peak sooner or get worse.

There have been 27 flu-related deaths among Californians under age 65, Watt said, adding that the state typically sees three or four such deaths by this time in the season.

“We might end up having one of the worst seasons in quite a long time, but we won’t know until it is over,” Dr. Gil Chavez, the state’s epidemiologist, told reporters.

State health officials urged Californians to get vaccinated against the flu, saying about 70 percent of those who died in that age group were not vaccinated.

Much of the country is grappling with what could be a worse-than-usual flu season, state health officials said. In California, flu-related hospitalizations have already reached what are typically peak levels, and the most common strain of influenza is one that tends to be more virulent, Watt said.

California officials said they track flu-related deaths of those under age 65 to gauge the severity of the illness, but many more older patients are affected.

In Los Angeles County, officials reported 26 flu-related deaths this season through the end of 2017, while San Diego County’s health and human services agency reported a total of 45, including a 12-month-old baby.

California health officials urged those with flu-like symptoms to stay home, rest, cover their coughs and seek medical assistance for more severe symptoms including chest pain, troubled breathing and dehydration.

They said they expect to release more updated figures Thursday.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.

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