Four people have died of complications from swine flu in the central San Joaquin Valley, health officials said Thursday.
A woman in Fresno County, a man in Kings County and two people in Merced County died within the past week. The deaths are the first this flu season, and health officials said they are seeing an increase in patients requiring hospitalizations in the Valley and statewide.
The four people who died all had been hospitalized, and had the H1N1 or swine-flu strain that was pandemic in 2009. Fresno County reported the woman who died had not gotten a flu shot this season. The vaccine offers protection against the H1N1 strain.
Madera and Tulare counties have not reported any deaths.
As of Dec. 30 -- the latest weekly report available from the state -- four flu deaths were reported in California, and all but one had the H1N1 strain. One of the deaths was in the Central Valley, another in greater Los Angeles and two in the San Francisco Bay area. New state numbers should be available Friday.
"Influenza activity is on the rise in California following the normal seasonal pattern," said Corey Egel, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. Flu season in California tends to peak in January and February.
California requires hospitals to report only influenza-related deaths in persons under the age of 65 who were admitted to the intensive care unit. Far more sick people seek help at hospital emergency departments than the number reported to the counties and state.
The four who died in the Valley were all adults, and the patients in Fresno and Merced counties had underlying health conditions. The Kings County man had previously been healthy, said Dr. Michael MacLean, health officer for Kings County.
It's too soon to know if this flu season will cause more severe illness than past seasons, but more patients have been hospitalized with symptoms than is typically the case for this time of year, Fresno County health officials said.
So far, seven people in Fresno County have been hospitalized and were ill enough to be admitted to intensive care. "We have never had seven this early in the flu season in the last five seasons," said Jared Rutledge, epidemiologist for the county's Department of Public Health. Last year, one hospitalization and one death had been reported up to this date, he said.
Kings County has two flu patients in intensive care, MacLean said.
Merced County had no hospitalizations reported as of last week, but "now they're starting to flood in," health director Kathleen Grassi said.
The deaths are a sad reminder of the flu's potential impact, Grassi said. Valley residents can still avoid the flu's effects because it's not too late to get a flu shot.
People should check with doctors and pharmacies to get a shot, but health departments also have vaccine. Madera County plans to hold a flu-shot clinic at a swap meet from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the district fairgrounds.
The county hopes to vaccinate 1,000 people. The recent flu deaths will be an incentive for people to get the vaccine, said Van Do-Reynoso, Madera County public health director. "When people fall seriously ill or die, the rest of us get startled awake."
Fever, cough, body aches, headache
In case of flu
Adults: Stay home from work, drink plenty of fluids and get rest. If you are short of breath or your flu becomes worse after several days, seek care from a doctor or emergency room.
For infants or young children: Follow your pediatrician's recommendations. If the child has labored breathing or appears excessively sleepy, seek immediate care.
For older children: Follow your doctor's recommendations; many times a child can be nursed at home. Keep the child home from school. Make sure the child drinks fluids to prevent dehydration. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever. Never give children aspirin. If the child's breathing is labored, seek immediate care.
To stay well
Get a flu shot
Wash your hands.
Wash telephones, computer keyboards and other shared instruments.
Use tissue and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
When ill, stay home to protect others.
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