Santa Clara County public health officials said Friday that three people have died from flu symptoms in the Bay Area this season and warned that cases of the flu are rising statewide.
The latest to succumb to the flu were two homeless men, both 58-years-old, whose separate deaths on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13 in Santa Clara County were tied to the virus, said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, health officer for the county's public health department.
The three Bay Area fatalities, including a 98-year-old woman who also died in Santa Clara County in January, upped the flu's death toll in California to 14 since the 2012-2013 season began in November, Fenstersheib said.
In the meantime, cases of the virus this season, which normally peak in February, are still increasing, Fenstersheib said.
"The state has reported that all the trends are upward," he said. "We have not peaked in California at this point."
Three other people were recently treated in emergency rooms in the county for severe flu symptoms and all survived, Fenstersheib said.
The health department asked hospitals throughout the county about flu complaints and "everyone has seen an increase in people coming in the emergency department," Fenstersheib said.
He emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, saying that the current vaccine, approved by the national Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, "is a good match" against this year's flu strains.
The predominant type of flu for the 2012-2013 season, which is expected to peak this month, is called Influenza A N3H2, an unusually virulent strain, according to the Atlanta-based CDC.
Fenstersheib took part in a news conference outside the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in San Jose with Dr. Sara Doorley, medical director of the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program that gives free health care to transients.
Doorley said that in light of the deaths of the homeless men, the county has augmented its flu-related services by adding two new free clinics this week in addition to its 10 standing clinics from Palo Alto south to Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
There are about 7,000 homeless people in Santa Clara County who "are vulnerable and at increased risk of getting the flu," Doorley said.
The county's homeless health program employs 30 staff people and two mobile units that go on weekly missions to find and provide care to homeless people, Doorley said.
Some staffers venture out with backpacks and hike to where the homeless stay and administer flu shots on the spot, Doorley said.
A top goal for the county in the next few years will be arranging housing for about 1,000 of its homeless population, she said.
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