Sixth Flu-Related Death Confirmed in Tarrant County

The Tarrant County Health Department confirms a sixth flu-related death has occurred in the county.

The latest death was revealed Tuesday morning by the county's Chief Epidemiologist Russell Jones after he addressed the Tarrant County Commissioners' Court regarding the latest with the flu.

The department is not allowed to release specific information on the death, but based on the prior five deaths the victim's age and health condition can be determined.

The victim was older than 70 and had underlying health conditions. Five of the six deaths in Tarrant County had confirmed health issues that contributed, along with the flu, to their deaths. The department doesn't have any information whether that sixth victim did or did not have health issues.

As of this writing there have been 51 confirmed flu-related deaths in North Texas including 35 in Dallas County, six in Tarrant County, four in Denton County, four in Collin County and one each in Hunt and Wise counties.

Jones told the commissioners' court that the number of patients with flu-like symptoms at Tarrant County hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices plateaued over the last few weeks. For the second week of January, ending Jan. 11, 10-percent of all patients had flu-like symptoms. Jones told commissioners though that the statewide numbers have declined from the last week of 2013 to the first week of 2014.

"If the statewide trend is holding here, perhaps we're on our way down," Jones said after the meeting.

But it is still too soon to say if the peak of flu season has come and gone. What is known is that those coming down with the flu continues to be those aged 25 to 64.

"What we're seeing is more of the working adults having influenza like illnesses than we have in the past," Jones said.

Health officials also know that of the six deaths, five of them had the Type A strain of the virus, the sixth the Type B strain. 

The county's death toll is unofficial, even as the health department confirms reported deaths. Adult flu deaths are not required to be reported to the state, only children 17 years or younger. So far, Tarrant County has not had any children die from the flu this season.

Groups Reach Out to Homeless

On Tuesday, several groups reached out a part of the Fort Worth community that likely didn't have a chance to get a flu shot but may still be quite vulnerable to the virus, the homeless.

John Peter Smith Health Network's Community Health program teamed up with Catholic Charities of Fort Worth's Street Outreach Services to administer a flu clinic in the homeless community.

Catholic Charities used its mobile bus for a JPS doctor, nurse and staff to give the flu shot to homeless men and women along East Lancaster Avenue.

"In the homeless community, you're sleeping right next to each other and the flu is rampant right now," said Jay Semple, program manager for the street outreach services. "We were happy to be able to partner with JPS and we have a great relationship with the homeless community."

It's the first time JPS and Catholic Charities have teamed up for such an event. In the first three hours of the clinic, 60 homeless men and women showed up for the shots.

"Transportation challenges are very real for this population," said Dawn Zieger, a director with JPS' community outreach program. "We have a bus system, but they have to be able to get to the appointment on time. We tell them to show up in six weeks at 3 o'clock and sometimes they don’t know where they’re sleeping in six weeks. And so we really want to change our paradigm and go out and meet people where they are."

The groups will hold another homeless flu shot clinic on Thursday in response to the spread of flu throughout North Texas and the state.

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