Three Delawareans died of influenza over the past week, bringing the total number of fatalities this season to 19.

That is the highest number of flu-related deaths in the five years, Jill Fredel, director of communications for the Department of Health and Social Services.

There now are 1,826 lab-confirmed cases to date which is almost the total for the entire season last year, Fredel said. All but one over the age of 65, with one being 53 years of age, and all had underlying medical conditions.

The Division of Public Health (DPH) continues to urge seniors and their caretakers to be particularly cautious this flu season, including asking their medical provider about anti-viral medication if they become ill, Fredel said.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Each year a few strains of the flu will circulate, Fredel said.

While there are multiple flu strains circulating now, this season the Influenza A strain is the most common among the fatalities and is also common in the larger community. Past experience indicates that when this particular strain is more common, there have been more hospitalizations and deaths, especially among those at highest risk of complications from flu infection.

This same strain has seen the mutation, which has impacted the effectiveness of the vaccine.  CDC initial evidence from this flu season shows the vaccine to be particularly low in protection for the elderly who contract the mutated strain, Fredel said.

Fourteen of the recent deaths were in New Castle County, two in Kent and three in Sussex.

For further information on the flu and DPH flu clinics, visit flu.delaware.gov or call 800-282-8672. A fact sheet on protecting the elderly and vulnerable populations is available at http://tinyurl.com/FLU-DELAWARE.