Matthew Walker's death is a grim reminder of influenza's reach.

Walker, a 23-year-old grocery worker, loved music and skateboards. He didn't miss work often, though he may have relied too much on caffeine and not enough on rest. How many people does that describe?

Yet a little more than two weeks after complaining to friends about a sore throat and a runny nose, Walker died, the fourth of five North Coast residents claimed by the flu so far this year.

Health warnings typically focus on the very young and the very old. The flu isn't as discriminating. Everyone is at risk.

Fortunately, there's a simple way for each of us to reduce that risk significantly: a vaccination. If you haven't already gotten yours, get it now.

H1N1, which is commonly called swine flu, appears to be the predominant strain this season. This year's vaccine is a good match for H1N1. That's promising, as health officials say it's more virulent than many flu strains and often results in pneumonia, which can be lethal, even for otherwise healthy people.

Walker was diagnosed with pneumonia when he went to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa on Dec. 27. He returned a day later and was admitted, but family members say the underlying illness was only diagnosed after his death on Jan. 8.

H1N1 was first detected in the United States in April 2009, and a worldwide pandemic was declared two months later. During the 2009-10 flu season, at least 203,000 worldwide died from H1N1 flu. California accounted for 600 of those deaths.

On Friday, the state's public health director declared that flu is again "widespread" in California, with 28 deaths under investigation. Hospital admissions for flu-like symptoms also are rising around the state.

Five years ago, a vaccine shortage contributed to the spread of the H1N1 pandemic. This year, there is no shortage and, for the most part, lines for a vaccination haven't been unusually long.

Instead, procrastination, coupled with an ill-informed suspicion of immunizations and vaccinations that's spreading like the flu in some communities, has left many people at risk.

Flu symptoms include fever, head and body aches, sore throats, congestion, runny nose and sneezing. It's unpleasant, but avoidable. Some people try to ignore it, but it's inconsiderate -#8212; potentially even deadly -#8212; to go to work or school with the flu.

This year's flu is nothing to sneeze at. There's no need to risk your health or anyone else's. Get a flu shot.

<b>FLU SHOTS</b>: For information about getting a flu shot, go to