NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif. - Alberto Ricaforte had never been in the hospital in his life.
"He was perfectly healthy, no sickness, never been in an emergency room or ICU once," his son Kenny Ricaforte said at his North Highlands home Friday night.
Albert, a lab worker at a Kaiser hospital in Roseville, got a fever just before Christmas. As he got sicker, he resisted his family's entreaties to go to the doctor, until he got even worse.
"We made him go to the ER about New Year's Eve, and from there it just kind of collapsed, from just worse to worse, every single day," Kenny Ricaforte explained.
On Wednesay, Alberto Ricaforte died at the age of 56 from pneumonia brought on by the flu, according to his son.
"He was definitely positive for H1N1," Kenny Ricaforte said.
So far this flu season, 45 Californians have died from the flu. In Sacramento County, the death toll has reached 11. Stanislaus County has had three deaths attributed to the H1N1 virus and earlier this week, one person died due to flu complications in El Dorado County, according to officials.
"Especially with the H1N1, even people who are otherwise young and healthy can get very severe disease," Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said.
State officials said another 50 deaths were being investigated to determine if they were caused by the flu.
Kasirye said even if you aren't worried about yourself, getting vaccinated, even at this point in the flu season, could save a loved one's life.
"So even if you're not thinking about yourself, think about that child, think about that old person and try to do it for their sake," Kasirye urged.
For the Ricafortes and their friends and family, the message to others is simple, a flu shot may not protect you 100 percent, but at 60 to 70 percent with this year's vaccine, it's the best way to keep a very preventable tragedy at bay.
"It devastated our whole family. I've never had a death in my family close to me," Kenny Ricaforte said.
"It's terrible," he said, and added, "Get the shot. It's worth it. And it's cheap."
The flu vaccination takes up to two weeks to fully protect against the H1N1, Influenza A and Influenza B strains. Flu symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. People are urged to stay home when sick and cover their coughs and sneezes.