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Flu Outbreak Strikes Valley

Patients are being hospitalized earlier than normal.

Flu fatalities and hospitalizations across the Valley are rapidly rising.  In the last 24 hours, four deaths have been confirmed between Fresno, Merced and Kings County.  The pandemic H1N1 strain is dominating the flu season and causing serious illness earlier than normal.

49 patients have been at Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center with the flu so far this week; that's already more than the hospital saw last week.  It's also the earliest hospitalization outbreak Fresno county has had in the last five years, and with kids heading back to school from winter break, there's fear the flu will spread even more.

In just a matter of hours, the flu scare skyrocketed across the Valley.

David Luchini, with the Fresno County Public Department of Health says, "It's tough to predict a flu and what it's going to do."

Four people have died of the H1N1 virus across three valley counties.  One in Merced, two in Kings and one in Fresno.  Officials believe the Fresno victim, a woman in her 40's with prior medical conditions, did not have the flu vaccine.  They also say the severity of the flu is striking early.

Luchini says, "This is the most hospitalizations we've had this time during a flu season."

Worry is mounting as kids head back to school.

Clovis mom Naomi Garrett says, "Of course all moms worry when it comes to flu season.  They don't know what to expect or if they're going to get hit."

"This will be interesting to see because we're seeing this activity starting during winter break and now kids are coming back and that's why we stress the importance of keeping those kids home from school if they're sick," says Luchini.

Clovis Unified school district says it's been disinfecting desks and doorknobs, and keeping a close eye on kids who appear to be sick.

"I was stopped by the staff members by the office asking me that if he didn't get better to take him home," says Garrett.

The primary target this season seems to be young and middle aged people, rather than the elderly.

"For some reason it seems like those born before 1950 may have built up some residual to H1N1," says Luchini.

The situation over at the Fresno County jail is being monitored daily after a 61 year old inmate was hospitalized with the H1N1 virus.  More than 300 inmates are still under quarantine and likely will be until the middle of next week.

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