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Swine Flu in Kansas: 22 Known Deaths, Vaccines Not Widely Available

By Lola Wheeler
Opinion | December 11, 2009

TOPEKA, Kan. - A 72-year-old woman from the Wichita metro area has died from infection with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

It is important to note that the number of deaths confirmed to be caused by pandemic H1N1 influenza under-represents the true number of deaths; many more deaths may have been caused by the virus in Kansas. Numbers are not complete because routine testing for H1N1 was stopped earlier this year because once a patient has acquired a flu-like illness, those with the swine flu are offered the same medications as thought with just seasonal flu.

The great majority of all influenza or pneumonia-related deaths that occur (pneumonia is the most common severe complication of influenza) do not have a confirmatory lab result associated with them.

Though the vaccine is not yet widely available in all counties to all Kansans, Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas State Health Officer, points out, "Healthy adults are susceptible to severe complications of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus."

Since October 10th, a total of 1,841 specimens have been submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Labs for testing. Of these, 856 (46%) have tested positive for H1N1.

This death brings the total number of confirmed deaths from the pandemic strain statewide to 22. The most recent deaths include: a 72-year-old from Wichita; a 44-year-old man from Kansas City; a 35-year-old man from northeast Kansas; a 75-year-old man from Topeka; and a 48-year-old woman from Topeka. As far as we know, these Kansans were not 'eligible' to receive the H1N1 vaccines because they were not under age 18, were not working in healthcare settings, were not pregnant and were not immune compromised.

Many Kansas counties have not released the H1N1 flu vaccine for use by the senior citizen population or by others in the general population. Increasingly, senior citizens are acquiring serious secondary illnesses, such as pneumonia, when stricken first with the swine flu.

Decision about vaccine distribution are being made in each county by County Health Department employees and given to priority groups, such as children, pregnant women and health care workers.

However, the largest number of pneumonia and influenza deaths continue to be attributed to persons 65 years or older. Since the end of September, no deaths in Kansas have been reported in persons less than 25 years of age in Kansas.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) explains that local public health agencies will need to partner with private sector immunization providers to administer H1N1 vaccine, once vaccine supplies are sufficient.

The symptoms of infection with the pandemic H1N1 virus are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever of 100 degrees or greater, body aches, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting.

Most people who have been ill with pandemic H1N1 influenza have recovered without medical treatment. Most children and adults with the flu who are generally in good health will recover without needing to visit a health care provider.

However, some people develop serious complications that require hospitalization or may lead to death. Although serious complications are more likely among persons with certain underlying chronic health conditions, this pandemic influenza virus has caused serious complications and deaths among persons without such factors. And as noted above, senior citizens are increasingly shown to be vulnerable to the complications of both seasonal flu and swine flu.

Does your county health department offer free immunizations to your senior population yet? If not, you may wish to call KDHE.

KDHE has established a phone number for concerned Kansans to call with questions about the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus. The toll-free number is 1-877-427-7317. Operators will be available to answer questions from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Persons calling will be directed to press "1" on their touch-tone phone to be directed to an operator who can answer questions.


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