The Pinellas County Health Department announced Sept. 17 that the county’s death toll from H1N1 (swine) flu had risen to five.
Thus far two females and three males, ranging in age from 20 to 51 have died from complications of H1N1 flu in Pinellas County. All had underlying health conditions; however, due to privacy laws, no further information is available.
The first death in Pinellas County, a 36-year-old male, was reported on Aug. 10. On Aug. 26, officials reported that s a 50-year-old female had died. The death of the county’s youngest victim, a 20-year-old male, was reported on Sept. 8.
Two additional deaths were reported this week, a 51-year-old male on Sept. 14, and a 43-year-old female on Sept. 17.
Florida’s announced its first confirmed death in mid June. The victim was a 9-year-old Miami-Dade County resident. As of Sept. 16, state health officials were reporting 87 laboratory-confirmed H1N1 flu fatalities.
As of Sept. 3, 593 deaths related to H1N1 had been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
H1N1 is a new strain of flu. It was first detected in people in the United States in April. Cases of human were first confirmed in southern California and near Guadalupe County in Texas.
The United States declared a public health emergency due to the spread of H1N1 flu on April 26. Florida’s Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros declared a public health emergency on May 1. The World Health Organization upped the alert level to a Phase 6 "pandemic" on June 11.
According to the CDC, a flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population; the virus causes serious illness and spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide.
As of Sept. 5, the CDC was reporting that H1N1 flu was widespread in 11 states: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee and Guam.
“Any reports of widespread influenza activity in August and September are very unusual,” the CDC said.
Health officials are continuing to preach the same message in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
"We urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves against the flu, which includes washing your hands and covering your sneeze or cough," said Claude Dharamraj, M.D., director of the Pinellas County Health Department.
Officials also urge people who think they have the flu to stay home and away from people until they have been free of fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
The Pinellas Health Department recommends the following steps to protect against the flu:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it to avoid spreading viruses.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to lessen the spread of germs.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
The symptoms of H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting.
The seasonal flu season will begin soon. Officials say the best prevention for the seasonal flu is a vaccination.
Flu shots are available at the county health department, doctor’s offices and some pharmacies.
In a typical year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu and approximately 36,000 flu-related deaths are reported each year, according to the CDC.
A vaccine for H1N1 flu is expected to become available sometime in October.
The populations at highest risk for H1N1 flu include pregnant women and infants and children ages six months to four years. The seasonal flu vaccine is separate, but may be administered on its own or with the H1N1 flu vaccine.
For more information about the H1N1 flu virus, visit:
- The Pinellas County Health Department, www.pinellashealth.com or call the H1N1 flu information line at 727-824-6964.
- The Florida Department of Health's information line, 877-352-3581, is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and has messages in English, Spanish and Creole. There are recorded messages around the clock.