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3rd flu death reported in Sonoma County; vaccine largely available

The H1N1 flu virus claimed its third victim Wednesday at Santa Rosa’s Sutter Medical Center, according to hospital officials.

“We are saddened to report that we have had a death in the hospital today due to H1N1,” said William Carroll, vice president of medical affairs for the hospital. “For patient privacy reasons, we are unable to disclose more information.”

Karen Holbrook, the county’s interim public health officer, said Wednesday that the patient was a 61-year-old woman who had underlying medical conditions that put her at risk of severe illness.

Holbrook would not release any other information about the patient.

Holbrook said the county has thus far seen 12 severe cases of H1N1 related illness. A severe case is where a patient is either admitted into an intensive care unit or dies because of their illness.

The news comes on the heels of the death of a 54-year-old woman on Sunday. That patient also had underlying medical conditions, Holbrook said.

The season’s first flu-related death occurred Jan. 8, when Matthew “Matty” Walker, 23, of Santa Rosa died after he contracted the H1N1 flu virus. Health officials said that in that case, Walker had no previous underlying medical conditions.

Holbrook emphasized that the best defense is vaccination and said there are currently no long-term shortages of vaccine.

News of the recent flu deaths has resulted in an increased demand for flu vaccine. And while there have been anecdotal reports of temporary shortages at local pharmacies and doctors’ offices, health care officials say there is no long-term shortage.

“We have been reassured by the state who has been in communication with vaccine suppliers that there is no overall shortage,” Holbrook said. “The shortages that people have been experiencing have been very short term ... those supplies are usually replenished by the next day.”

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