Third flu death reported in Merced County

A third person has died of influenza in Merced County, bringing to eight the number of central San Joaquin Valley residents who have died of the flu this winter.

Kings and Fresno counties also reported a death Monday.

Merced County was notified Monday afternoon of its latest flu death, said Kathleen Grassi, the county’s health director. She did not know if the person had gotten a flu shot.

Merced County’s latest influenza victim was between 35 and 50 years of age, Grassi said. “It’s not the elderly or the very young, it’s adults” who are being stricken, she said.

Grassi said Monday another person was also admitted to the intensive care unit with influenza. A total of five severe cases of influenza have been reported in Merced County this winter.

Last week, central San Joaquin Valley counties reported five deaths: two in Merced County, one in Fresno County and two in Kings County. Hospitals in California are required to report flu deaths of people under age 65.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office confirmed a 61-year-old inmate, who had been admitted to Community Regional Medical Center last week, died Monday afternoon at the hospital. The man, whose identity has not been released, had been in county jail since last September.

Sheriff’s spokesman Chris Curtice said three inmates have the H1N1 influenza A virus and are in an isolation pod set up specifically for flu cases.

Nine other jail inmates have flu symptoms – eight men and one woman – and are being tested for H1N1, also sometimes called the “swine flu.”

Areas in the north and south jail annex are under quarantine or “lock down” to prevent the spread of the virus, the office said.

Inmates are being checked for symptoms daily and will be checked for at least the next several days, the office said. Inmates are being offered flu shots.

Kings County was notified Monday afternoon of a death of a middle-aged woman with influenza.

The woman had no underlying medical conditions to put her at higher risk of complications from the flu, said Sharon Soong, the county’s communicable disease coordinator. Last week, the county reported the deaths of two middle-aged men, one of whom also had no underlying medical problems.

The three flu victims had not gotten flu shots this season, Soong said. Fresno County reported a woman who died last week had not gotten a flu shot. It was not known whether the others who died in the Valley had the vaccine. The flu shot protects against the H1N1 strain.

Officials “strongly recommend” that people get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. To prevent the spread of flu, people are advised to stay home when sick; cover coughs or sneezes with their elbow; wash hands; and avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Anyone with flu-like symptoms should call a doctor or medical hot line before going to a clinic or hospital to avoid spreading the virus, experts say.