Twenty-two children died last year after contracting a rare, lung-destroying pneumonia that is triggered by the combination of the flu and a common skin infection, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The number of deaths is a sharp increase from previous years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacterial pneumonia, which is believed to be the leading cause of death during the 1957-1958 flu pandemic that killed 70,000 people in the U.S., is caused by the dangerous teaming of influenza and the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which is carried in the nose or on the skin of about 1 in 3 people, usually with no ill effects.

The number of fatalities caused by the flu-staph combination has increased from five during the 2003-2004 flu season to 22 in the 2006-2007 season. Numbers for the 2007-2008 season are not yet available, according to the report.

The best way to prevent the infection is to get an annual flu shot, an epidemiologist from the CDC told the Los Angeles Times.

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