(dailynews.com) The flu has killed at least 26 Los Angeles County residents so far this season, health officials reported Friday, compared to just five at the same point last year.

Those figures do not include the cities of Pasadena and Long Beach, however, since both cities have their own health departments, and means the number of deaths could be higher. That’s because the strain gripping the Los Angeles County region this year is not just earlier, it’s also stronger – overwhelming hospitals and urgent care centers and raising concerns about a possible shortage of the Tamiflu treatment.

This year’s strain takes a deeper toll on seniors – especially those with underlying illnesses – health officials say. Of those who’ve died this season, the average age was 76, according to Los Angeles County Public Health Officials.

Physicians and staff at the Pasadena Urgent Care Center are seeing more than 200 patients a day – 25 percent more than last year, said Dr. Claudia Pfeil, lead physician at the center and at the Glendora Urgent Care Center. The clinic there is seeing about 100 patients a day, also 25 percent more than during the same time last year.

“This is my 13th flu season here in Pasadena, and by far it is the worst flu season that I’ve seen,” she said. “The numbers are up. The severity is up. The sickest ones are those that haven’t gotten the flu vaccine.”

Though it’s already January, and the flu vaccine is typically recommended for October, Pfeil said she and physicians are still encouraging people to get one. It’s better to have one, than not, she added.

Of the four strains of influenza circulating, the H3N2 appears to be the most dominant, and it’s the most aggressive, health officials said.

Pfeil said she’s also hearing from patients and pharmacies that the antiviral Tamiflu is in short supply. Public health officials said that concern has also been expressed among staff at some skilled nursing facilities.

“There is currently no shortage of Tamiflu,” public health officials said in it’s most recent surveillance statement. “However, facilities should be aware that in the event of a flu or unknown respiratory outbreak within their facility, we recommend that all residents (both ill and well) be provided with antivirals.”

Meanwhile, hospitals are seeing “saturated levels” of patients at emergency departments, said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, interim health director for Los Angeles County.

“All six of our Providence medical centers in the Los Angeles Area, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, have been inundated for the past week – many of them seeing record numbers in their emergency departments,” said Patricia Aidem, a spokeswoman for Providence Health & Services.

“Volumes have increased as much as 70 percent in the ERs,” she said, “and patients, especially the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, appear to be suffering more acute symptoms compared to past flu seasons.”

Pfeil said she and her colleagues at hospitals are encouraging people who think they have the flu to call their primary physicians first, to get professional care by phone, before coming to emergency departments and urgent-care centers.

Sometimes the best treatment, she and others said, is to stay home, rest, drink plenty of liquids, and use over-the-counter medications.

Influenza symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue.

Most people with the flu are able to treat themselves at home, health officials say. But for some people, the disease can lead to complications including pneumonia, seizures, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart or lung disease.

“I’m not sure if (the flu season) is worse this year than other years,” Gunzenhauser said. “The question is: will it go longer? Will it go deeper? The truth is we can’t predict.”