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Kentucky Reports First H1N1-Related Death

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Officials from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department announced today at the Governor's Pandemic Influenza Summit that Kentucky is reporting the state's first death associated with H1N1 influenza (swine flu) to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The death involved a Fayette County woman in her 50s who had significant underlying health conditions.

"We know that influenza has the potential to contribute to complications like serious illness, and even death. It is always a tragedy when we lose a Kentuckian to any illness," said Gov. Steve Beshear. "I hope that the summit taking place today will help the education, health care, business and other communities be better prepared to respond as we move into the fall and face an expected increase of cases of 2009 H1N1."

Although more than 500 deaths associated with H1N1 influenza have been reported nationwide, the severity of H1N1 influenza illness appears comparable to seasonal influenza, which is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the CDC.

An H1N1 vaccination campaign is expected to begin in late October, and health officials are recommending that individuals under 65 who are at higher risk for complications of the flu, such as pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses, be among the target groups to receive vaccine first. Officials also emphasized the importance of people practicing good hygiene habits during the coming months, in order to reduce the risk of contracting influenza. Common sense precautions to prevent illness include: avoiding close contact with those who are ill; staying home when sick; covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth; and frequent hand washing.

The symptoms of both seasonal and H1N1 influenza include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, cough, body aches, and may include vomiting or diarrhea. Individuals at higher risk for complications—such as those with chronic health conditions or who are pregnant—should contact a health care provider early, in case treatment with antiviral medication is necessary.

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“We are saddened that we have experienced Kentucky's first death related to H1N1," said William Hacker, M.D., commissioner of DPH. "We are continuing to work closely with our partners at the local, state and federal levels to respond to both the H1N1 pandemic and to the seasonal flu that we expect this fall. The illness that H1N1 causes is very similar to the seasonal flu to date, and we hope to reduce the impact of the flu on Kentucky."

Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Director Melinda Rowe, M.D., joined officials at the event. “We’re saddened anytime there’s a death in the community. This just reaffirms our commitment to fighting the flu this fall and winter," Dr. Rowe said.

Dr. Rowe also emphasized the advance planning that is under way for the H1N1 vaccination campaign, and efforts already going on to provide seasonal flu vaccine now. "The health department will be working nonstop to protect the people of Lexington from H1N1 by planning massive vaccination clinics as soon as we get the vaccine in October. We want to get the vaccine to as many people as possible as quickly we can once it arrives. In the meantime, we want folks to get their seasonal flu shot, which is now available.”

Anyone in Lexington with questions about the flu can call the LFCHD Flu Hotline at (859) 288-7529. The health department also has a special Flu Outreach Response Team (FORT) that will speak to groups of 10 people or more to provide information about the flu. To arrange a visit with FORT, call (859) 288-2350.

Today’s summit aims to help private and public stakeholders prepare for any developments related to the 2009 H1N1 flu strain through the fall and winter, including the vaccination campaign. The summit brings together representatives from a wide range of sectors, including business, public and private K-12 education, secondary education, law enforcement and public safety organizations, health care workers, public health workers, other state agencies and faith-based organizations.

“Given the H1N1 pandemic recognized earlier this year that is still active around the world, I felt it was important to bring together official responders, community and school representatives and others to learn about the latest developments and our state’s capacity to respond to an expected increase in H1N1 cases during the coming flu season,” said Gov. Beshear.