Merced County reports latest flu death

Health officials in Kings and Merced counties on Thursday reported two new flu-related deaths.

Merced County's latest flu victim was a man between the ages of 50 and 60. The county did not indicate if he had been vaccinated.

The deaths raised the total to 36 in the central San Joaquin Valley, including five each in Kings and Merced. Fresno County has had 22 deaths and Madera and Tulare counties have had two deaths each.

Fresno County officials have said this is the worst flu season in the five years since California has required hospitals to report influenza deaths of children and adults younger than age 65.

The latest death in Kings County was a middle-aged woman who had health conditions that increased her risk of complications from the flu, said Sharon Soong, the communicable disease coordinator at the Kings County Department of Public Health.

Of the five deaths in Kings County, none of the patients had gotten flu shots, the health department said.

The vaccine offers protection against influenza viruses, including H1N1, an influenza A strain that has been associated with most of the deaths in the Valley. The latest death was influenza A, but health officials said it was not possible to identify if the strain was H1N1 or another influenza A subtype.