October 29, 2009 - 9:00 pm
With six more deaths confirmed by the Southern Nevada Health District on Wednesday, the number of H1N1-related fatalities in Clark County rose to 18.
Four deaths occurred last week and two others earlier in October, according to a health district news release.
Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said H1N1 deaths now number more than 1,000 in the United States. Only H1N1-related deaths confirmed in the laboratory are included in that figure.
“We believe it’s probably higher,” Skinner said of the figure, but he declined to provide an estimate.
Skinner said the numbers, coming less than a week after President Barack Obama declared the H1N1 pandemic a national emergency, aren’t unexpected.
“What we’re seeing right now isn’t out of the ordinary, as far as the number of deaths and hospitalizations that we see during a typical flu season,” he said.
According to the CDC Web site, an average of 36,000 people die from seasonal flu-related complications each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized. Statistics for Clark County were unavailable.
What has been out of the ordinary is the number of children, teenagers and young adults dying from this strain of flu across the country, he said.
“Normally, it (the flu) affects older people much more strongly,” he said.
According to statistics on the CDC Web site, 26 percent of the recorded hospitalizations have been people ages 5 to 18, and 24 percent have been ages 25 to 49. Nineteen percent have been newborns to age 4, and 15 percent 50 to 64. Nine percent have been 19 to 24.
Those 65 and older account for 7 percent of H1N1 hospitalizations.
The most recent H1N1-related deaths in Clark County included a disproportionate number of young people.
The patients were a 22-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions, a 28-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions, a 44-year-old man with underlying medical conditions and a 40-year-old man with no underlying medical conditions.
The two earlier deaths reported were of a 64-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions and a 50-year-old man. It is unknown whether the man had underlying medical conditions.
Skinner said people older than 65 might have some immunity to the virus, having been exposed to similar strains in their lifetime.
Dr. John Middaugh, director of community health for the district, said the H1N1 virus has been prevalent in Nevada, as it has been in the rest of the country.
A recent phone survey of residents by medical experts in New York City found that about 10 percent to 15 percent of the population had been infected with H1N1 already, Middaugh said.
And 10 percent seems like a good approximation of the number of infected residents locally, he said.
“You have to remember that, in most cases, the H1N1 (virus) is very mild, and people don’t even go to the doctor,” he said.
Middaugh estimated that 99 percent of the flu in the United States is H1N1, which appears to be the dominant strain this season.
The good news is the virus hasn’t become more severe, he said, and epidemiologists expect the virus to taper off in the spring.
Noting that more young and middle-aged people are at risk this flu season, Skinner stressed the importance of prevention through vaccination.
The health district has administered about 22,000 vaccines from its total shipments of about 50,000, health officials said Wednesday.
Middaugh said there are about 40,000 doses of FluMist, a nasal vaccine, left in Clark County. The health district has 20,000 doses, and another 20,000 doses have been distributed to hospitals and physicians in Southern Nevada.
The health district also has 6,000 doses of the injectable H1N1 vaccine remaining, but are not holding flu shot clinics until they’ve restocked their supply.
Middaugh does not expect another shipment until later next week, he said, but noted that some priority groups who cannot take the FluMist, such as pregnant women and children under age 2, are being given flu shots anyway.
The health district hopes that those eligible for FluMist, which is made with a weakened live virus, will continue to come to the clinic. Priority groups eligible for the mist include the following:
• People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months old
• Health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact
• Children and adults between the ages of 2 and 24.
It appeared some Nevadans at first were leery of the FluMist but have since changed their minds, he said, citing the 1,300 people who were vaccinated at the health district Tuesday.
“Nevadans are getting used to it,” he said.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283.