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."
Holbrook said the county health department has reached out to local hospitals and is currently in the process of reaching out to local health centers to check on the status of vaccine supplies.
"Our understanding is that it's been sort of a similar experience. There have been some instances where they've run out at the end of the day, but they get more the next day," she said.
On Wedenesday afternoon, the CVS on Mendocino Avenue was reporting that they had run out of vaccine for the day.
At the CVS on Fourth Street and Farmers Lane, pharmacy staff said they had vaccine but that they were giving priority to people who had asked to be put on a waiting list. Some on the list had been waiting for two days.
Responding to temporary shortages, Mike DeAngelis, director of public relations for CVS, said the current flu outbreak has increased demand.
"We currently have vaccine available and we will continue to vaccinate patients for as long as supplies last," DeAngelis said. "It is possible that individual locations may experience sporadic shortages of flu vaccine based on demand, and we make every effort to resupply any pharmacy that runs out of vaccine as quickly as possible."
Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa was forced to reorder more flu vaccine to stay ahead of current demand, according to Gary Green, infectious disease chief at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa.
Green said Kaiser in Santa Rosa has administered more than 60,000 flu vaccines this season, "probably more like 65,000" since September.