EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that two more people have died from the flu this season.
The number of flu-related deaths this season is now 13.
The two most recent deaths involve an elderly and a middle-aged man, both of whom contracted the H1N1 virus strain, health officials said.
Health officials say that 12 of the 13 individuals were not vaccinated against the flu.
"It means that not being vaccinated gives every single individual a higher risk to contract and develop the disease with the risk of dying," said Fernando Gonzalez, the lead epidemiologist at the El Paso Department of Health.
Another health department official said he would not describe the number of deaths in this amount of time as high but added that the flu can always be deadly.
There have been rumors on the internet and elsewhere that the true number of flu deaths in El Paso is higher but that people who died initially had flu-like symptoms and weren't tested until later and tested negative for it. By then, the flu had passed from them and they contracted another illness which they died from.
"I'm told that the ... scenario regarding flu systems not being tested in time is actually a possibility," said health dept. spokesman Armando Saldivar. "My director Robert Resendes wanted me to point out that the data we collect/report is based on laboratory positive cases. There are preliminary tests that can be done, that will at times be negative once further testing is conducted."
So far this season the Department has confirmed a total of 2,248 cases of influenza in El Paso. The number of Type B influenza cases has increased slightly over the past week, but the majority of all cases remains Type A.
Health officials say the number of new cases reported in the past week shows a decline but they are still urging the public to protect themselves and their families.
"The flu season is not over and the virus is still out there. We know the flu virus can continue to infect people well into spring, and it will if we don't keep our guard up," said Gonzalez. "The number of deaths, the number of cases, and the number of patients being treated in area hospitals should serve as a reminder that this battle is not over," he added.
It does take about two weeks for the flu vaccine to become fully effective what's it's been given to someone.
The Department's Immunization Program has limited quantities of the flu vaccine for both adults and children. Flu vaccines are available for children ages six months to 18-years-old who do not have health insurance and who meet eligibility requirements. The cost is $10. Adult flu vaccines are provided for $35. Clients are urged to contact the clinic of their choice to verify availability of both the children's and adult vaccines prior to their visit. Residents may also consult with their primary care provider or a local retail outlet of their choice in order to obtain the adult vaccine. You may also call the 2-1-1 Information and Referral Center to help find a location near you where the vaccine is available.
In addition, Department officials are asking residents to practice the "4 C's". These recommendations have proven to be effective in preventing the spread of the flu virus.
- CLEAN-Wash your hands often. Scrub your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- COVER-Cover your cough. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Don't have a tissue? The crook of your elbow will do.
- CONTAIN-Contain germs by steering clear of others who are sick. If you do get sick, stay home until you're well again, so you don't spread more germs.
- CALL-Call or see your doctor if you or your child has a fever of greater than 100 degrees.
For more information on preventing the flu visit: www.EPHealth.com and click on the flu prevention page. In addition, agencies or organizations interested in a Speakers Bureau presentation may click on the Special Projects tab and request a presentation on flu prevention.