Area sees 2nd swine flu death

Published 9:45 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Complications related to H1N1 influenza — the so-called swine flu — have claimed the life of a second person in western Tidewater, according to state health officials.

An adult female with a pre-existing condition died on Friday, according to Amal Patel, district deputy biologist for the Western Tidewater Health District, which covers Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Franklin and Southampton.

Citing state policy regarding the privacy of health information, neither Patel nor Larry Hill, public information officer for the Virginia Health Department’s eastern region, would give any information that could be potentially used to identify the victim.

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Hence, they would not release the victim’s age, her hometown, her place of death or the type of pre-existing condition from which she suffered.

“We have to do everything we can, not to identify a patient,” Hill said.

Responding to a suggestion that people in the community might want to know if the virus that the Centers for Disease Control estimates has claimed more than 4,000 lives across the nation had struck near their homes, he said, “If it’s a pandemic, it’s all over the place.”

In fact, the disease has played a part in the deaths of 24 Virginians, he said. That total now includes two from western Tidewater.

The CDC, in its most recent weekly flu surveillance report, covering the week that ended Nov. 7, reported that the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza had been above the epidemic threshold in the U.S. for the sixth consecutive week.

The proportion of outpatient visits for flu-like illnesses was nearly three times its normal level, the agency reported, with all regions of the country reporting higher numbers of flu complaints than in a normal year.

As of Nov. 13, just a little more than one million doses of the H1N1 vaccine had been shipped to Virginia. Slow delivery — a function of a production process that has taken longer than expected — has hampered school-based vaccination clinics throughout the commonwealth, including in Suffolk, where students at only one school had been vaccinated by the beginning of November.

The H1N1 virus can be spread from one person to another through coughing or sneezing or by touching an object that an infected person has touched.

The best ways to avoid spreading the virus, health officials say, is through frequent hand-washing, coughing and sneezing into your elbow and staying home from work or school if you have flu symptoms.