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Health officials warn flu season could get worse

Reminders: Wash your hands, cough into your sleeve and stay home if ill

There have been at least four flu-related deaths in the Bay Area so far, and public health officials warn that while flu-season has been mild so far, it could still become severe.

In prepared statements from public health departments in San Francisco, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and Alameda County, public health officers are warning that flu activity is increasing.

Two of the people who died were in San Mateo County, officials said Friday. No one in Palo Alto or Santa Clara County has died of the flu this season.

"Although Ebola has gotten a lot of attention recently, flu is a much more real threat here in the Bay Area," said Dr. George Han, deputy health officer of Santa Clara County. "Every year, flu sickens and kills thousands of Americans and is particularly dangerous to the young, elderly and those with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems."

Area residents are advised to get flu shots, wash their hands, and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, public health officials said.

Flu shots typically protect against three to four different flu strains. So far this season the H3N2 strain has been most common, but roughly

half of the H3N2 samples analyzed show slight changes making this year's vaccine somewhat less effective at protecting against it, officials said.

They still recommend getting vaccinated, however, as the flu shot can protect against other potentially dangerous flu strains.

Individuals who fall ill are advised to limit their contact with others by staying home from work or school. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve or elbow, rather than your hand, can also be helpful in preventing the spread of the flu virus.

Vaccination is recommended for anyone over the age of sixth months, and officials say it is important for individuals in high-risk categories like the elderly, pregnant women and children under 5 years old.

People with medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, asthma and heart disease are also advised to get vaccinated.

— Bay City News Service

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