Young Sonoma County flu victim identified

January 10, 2014 10:35 am

Santa Rosa flu victim Matthew Walker

The youngest flu victim to succumb to the H1N1 virus in the Bay Area has been identified by his employer as 23-year-old Mathew Walker.

Walker spent the last two years working at G & G Supermarket in Santa Rosa.

Co-workers told KTVU he became sick a few days before Christmas and was admitted to the hospital shortly after that. He died on Wednesday from the H1N1 Virus.

“I was just heartsick when I found out,” said Tooch Colombo, one of Walker’s co-workers. “What’s not to like about this guy: young, good looking, impeccably dressed, friendly. I don’t understand how a guy that healthy could go that quick.”

Along with his supermarket job, Walker also worked for his father’s flooring company. Co-workers said Walker was healthy and didn’t have any pre-existing health problems.

“Very unexpected,” said Connie Petersen, G&G’s Human Resources Director. “23 years old is much too young to go. And he was a great guy he was, he was really friendly. Everybody loved him.”

At Santa Rosa’s Memorial Hospital Wednesday, where flu sufferers were streaming in, an emergency room doctor expressed surprise that a young man had died of influenza.

“That is pretty unusual, a young healthy man dying of the flu. That’s pretty unusual but it can happen,” Dr. Evan Tobin told KTVU.

It happened in 2009-2010, when the flu struck down otherwise healthy, young and middle aged people, not considered high risk. Now H1N1 is back, part of the flu mix.

“It’s really all ages for this, sometimes they’re admitted, sometimes they go home, but in general they’re pretty sick,” explained Dr. Tobin.

The flu vaccine this year does cover the H1N1 strain, so it offers some protection from that particular strain.

California health officials say seven people have died from the flu so far this season, and more people are ending up in the hospital than expected.

The state Department of Public Health said Friday it is investigating an additional 28 deaths to determine if the flu is to blame.

All victims were under 65 years old. The state does not keep track of flu deaths in people older than 65.

While flu activity is up around the state, health officials said it’s not an unexpected increase. Flu season typically peaks in February or March.

The dominant strain this season is the H1N1 strain, which mostly affects young and middle-aged people. In 2009, a swine flu pandemic killed at least 150,000 people worldwide.