Flu deaths in the Bay Area up to 11


When Matty Walker came down with the flu, his co-workers didn't think too much of it. After all, he was only 23 years old.

"He was young, he was healthy that's why it's such a shock and that he went so quick," co-worker Connie Petersen said.

Walker posted a picture of himself at the hospital Dec. 26 on Facebook. He wrote, "Lying on gurney with 103 temp today. No fun...." His illness lasted over two weeks. Then on Wednesday, he was dead.

Walker was one of 10 severe flu cases in Sonoma County so far this season. Of the 10, four people have been less than 50 years old, a percentage consistent with the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

"It feels like it's a very steep and very compressed time frame where we're seeing this pretty dramatic increase," Sonoma County Interim Health Director Karen Holbrook said. "But how that's going to play out over the entire season, it's too early to tell."

Walker's father says his son didn't get the flu shot, but beyond that, he says he didn't take good care of himself. He says he didn't sleep a lot and didn't eat well, which he believes were factors in not being able to fight off the flu.

Flu season typically peaks in February or March, but state health officials say they're already seeing deaths and hospitalizations earlier than usual. The majority of those who have died from the flu had the H1N1 strain. All of the victims were under 65, but none of the deaths so far this year have been children.

Kaiser Permanente Friday acknowledged some "spot shortages" of the flu vaccine over the past few days. They are shifting supplies to facilities that are running short. Other than that, the flu shots seem to be widely available.

Safeways throughout the Bay Area and Northern California reports a substantial increase in walk-in's for flu shots. Maybe the deal of 10 percent off groceries is an incentive. The price for catching the flu can be high.

Medical teams working in tents outside Regional Medical Center say they're seeing about one-third more patients seeking emergency room treatment. Many suspect it's flu.

The outbreak is prompting some Bay Area churches to take precautionary measures. The Oakland Diocese is encouraging pastors to reach out to their parishioners this weekend.

"It's very customary and traditional for us to greet one another with a handshake or an embrace, and we're cautioned now to respect each other's space," said St. Joseph's pastor, Father John Direen.

In prayer, parishioners will be asked to hold their hands up instead of linking them. And at St Joseph's in Berkeley, people will find something extra at their seats.

"We had one parishioner come in a couple days ago with three boxes of hand sanitizer that we're going to put in all the pews," Father Direen said.

Most of the confirmed H1N1 cases have involved middle-aged adults. When there was an outbreak of the same flu strain in 2009, it targeted school-age children. Some schools even closed for a week to minimize the spread. This time, the pattern is starting out differently.

"We are actually not hearing that much from schools, concerns from schools," Santa Clara County Health Officer, Dr. Sara Cody said. "What we have in place is something we have had for a while, and it runs year 'round, which is that one of our communicable disease nurses is a liaison to the school nurses, so there's very good communication back and forth."

A mask is another way to avoid getting the flu or spreading it.

"If you have a cough or you're sneezing, please wear a mask, and that's to help reduce the spread from the ill person to the well people who might be sitting by, and you can also wear a mask to prevent spread to yourself," Cody said.

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