Santa Barbara County’s flu season began with similar numbers of cases as in recent years, but health officials urge people to get a flu vaccine to better protect against the influenza and potential complications.

Fifty-two people have tested positive for either flu A or B in the county this flu season, which started in late September, according to the most recent report from the county public health department.

One patient, over the age of 65, died so far this flu season due to influenza.

A total of 1,129 people have been tested by the county hospital emergency department’s lab, the report said.

“This season’s flu season started off with similar numbers of cases compared to the prior two years,” said Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer. “What makes this year unusual is that the influenza B virus was diagnosed as frequently as influenza A this early in the season, which is atypical.

“Fortunately, the influenza B strain is included in this year’s vaccine for better protection,” Ansorg continued. “Young children have been hit especially hard so far with influenza cases,” adding, “We strongly recommend to get the flu vaccine if you have not received it yet.”

Within the last two weeks, several health providers in the county had limited office hours and decreased patient counts because of winter break, according to the public health department.

County hospital emergency rooms reported more than 4,100 visits by patients; 4.18 percent of patients were diagnosed with influenza-like illness and eight people were admitted over the past two weeks.

This is lower compared with the same period last year. The number was 6.2 percent in 2018.

All regions of the country are seeing flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza B/Victoria viruses, which typically make an appearance later in the flu season, have been reported more frequently than other influenza viruses this season, according to the most recent report from the CDC.

At least 6.4 million patients have caught the flu, as well as roughly 55,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from the flu, the CDC said.

As of Tuesday, Ansorg said, local health officials cannot determine if the remainder of the season will get more severe (similar to the 2017-2018 season) or not.

The CDC estimated the nationwide impact for the flu season in 2017-2018 was 45 million flu-related illnesses, 21 million influenza-associated medical visits, 810,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 61,000 influenza-associated deaths.

Check the county public health department website or view the state data for more information.

“We are reminding our residents and visitors that flu season typically lasts until April,” Ansorg said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.