At least 23 flu deaths reported in the Bay Area 

As flu season continues this winter, Santa Clara County reported two more flu-related deaths Friday, bringing the Bay Area total to 23.

Two women, ages 52 and 62, passed away this week from the H1N1 virus, also known as "swine flu," Santa Clara County Public Health Department spokeswoman Amy Cornell said today.

The county reported the first Bay Area flu-related death this season when a 41-year-old woman passed away in December shortly before Christmas, Cornell said

This month two men, 61 and 56 years old, and a 62-year-old woman have also died from the virus, she said.

There have been six flu-related deaths in the county this season.

There have also been 15 people who have been hospitalized after coming down with severe cases of the flu this season, according to Cornell.

Throughout the state, there have been 45 confirmed influenza deaths statewide and 50 more suspected cases as of Jan. 11, according to Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director and state epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health's Center for Infectious Diseases.

There have been at least 23 flu deaths in the Bay Area as of Friday afternoon, according to local health departments. That number is higher than the 14 confirmed in the region so far by the state Department of Public Health.

The state health department is not required to report flu deaths of people over age 65, Chavez said.

There were 106 flu deaths in California during the 2012-2013 season, Chavez said. He said the 2013-2014 flu season has not yet peaked.

The H1N1 strain is predominant this season, according to Chavez.

"We are clearly in the midst of what appears to be an earlier peaking, severe flu season, and I encourage everyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccination to do so," California Department of Public Health director Dr. Ron Chapman said.

Public health officials did not have a regional breakdown of where the flu is hitting hardest. They said the flu has been reported statewide.

Dr. James Watt, chief of the state's Division of Communicable Disease Control, said there wouldn't be data on the proportion of California's population that has been vaccinated until after the current flu season.

A predominant number of those under 65 who have died of the flu had underlying health conditions that put them more at risk, Watt said.

Those conditions typically include heart and lung disease, HIV, cancer and obesity, Watt said. Pregnant women also appear to be at risk of contracting the H1N1 virus, he said.

Public health officials said there is plenty of influenza vaccine. The state public health department has purchased 50,000 doses for local health departments.

There are also 290,000 federally purchased doses via the Vaccines for Children program, with the doses available for local health departments or private providers, according to the Department of Public Health.

There also is no known widespread shortage of anti-viral medication to treat the influenza, public health officials said.

In order to prevent the spread of H1N1, state health officials advise people to cover their mouths when coughing, wash their hands often and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.

State officials are also telling people to stay home if they have any flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches,

headache, chills and fatigue.

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