Influenza and illnesses deriving from the viral infection are blamed for one death and a monumental increase in hospital patients and school absenteeism in San Juan County.

In Grand County, nurses at Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab said a rash of patients have been treated in the emergency room for flu-like symptoms over the past two weeks. Nursing director Georgia Russell said three to four patients have been hospitalized weekly since November with pneumonia, including two children under age 2.In Monticello, hospital and school spokesmen said the flu is striking hardest at middle-aged and elderly groups. The schools are also seeing outbreaks of chicken pox and mononucleosis, said Dr. Steven Warren.

"It's just been a year for the bugs," he said.

Merilee Bailey, San Juan County Hospital nurses team leader, said children are getting chicken pox on top of the flu. She said the chicken pox began spreading last fall.

Merilyn Hugentobler, first-grade elementary school teacher, said she also knows of scarlet fever cases.

"We've had children missing two to three weeks of school because of illness," Hugentobler said. "I've been here 23 years and I've never seen anything this bad. I've had people who've been here all their lives say the same thing."

Bailey, one of several nurses recovering from the flu Friday, said patient census reached a peak over the past two weeks at the San Juan hospital.

Warren said normal patient load averages three to four people on any given day. "Now we're running 15 to 18 a day, a lot of it flu-related."

Bailey estimated 75 percent of the increase is due to flu.

Ten of the hospital's 20 nurses came down with one or another of the strains going around the state, Warren said.

The doctor is also recovering from a bout with the bug and last week had to handle patients by telephone to avoid exposing them to the virus.

The only doctor in Monticello, Warren said he is seeing two strains of the virus in his patients, one causing abdominal and stomach sickness. The second type, which he suffered from, brings extreme muscle aches along with headache, fever and coughing.

He said symptoms last up to two weeks. Persistent sore throat and fever lasting more than 48 hours could be signaling secondary illnesses and antibiotics may be needed, he said.

Complications Warren said he has been treating include strep throat, sinus inflammations and pneumonia.

"We're seeing more people being thrown into congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema," he said. "We've had two with that in the last 10 days, and one is in the hospital now."

Last Saturday, a 68-year-old man hospitalized in Monticello after developing the flu died from complications, Warren said.

The patient, Ben Hess, was treated for two days at the San Juan hospital and then flown Saturday to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. He died there from adult respiratory distress syndrome, Warren said.