Clark County flu deaths alarming, heartbreaking

The flu death stories are breaking my heart.

On Valentine’s Day I kept thinking of people who have lost their loved ones to the flu.

The Review-Journal’s Jessie Bekker’s story about 12-year-old Carlo Occhipinti Jr.’s death’ told of a boy who had a sore throat and a fever who died hours after collapsing in his mother’s arms as his lungs filled with blood on Dec. 30.

His parents were afraid the flu vaccine might give him the flu so they didn’t get him vaccinated.

Bekker also wrote another compelling story about Jenna Libidinsky. Doctors told her she had a bad chest cold and a cough expected to linger a couple of weeks.They prescribed antibiotics, an inhaler, steroids and cough syrup. But she didn’t get better. Her lungs filled with blood, and the last words she heard from her parents were, “I love you, bugaboo.”

Libidinsky was 24. And she hadn’t gotten a flu shot.

The Wall Street Journal offered two more examples.

Heather Holland, a teacher from Texas, came home with a scratchy throat. She usually got a flu shot, but her husband didn’t remember if she obtained one this year. She died six days later.

Karlie Slaven, 37, from Indiana, died three days after learning she had the flu. Her father told the Wall Street Journal she missed her flu shot this year.

All four stories were horrifying to me. Yes, this year’s flu shot may not be very powerful. Yes, the strain is more dangerous. Yes, if you’re allergic or younger than 6 months old, you shouldn’t get one.

But so far in Clark County, 24 people have died of the flu. And the season doesn’t wrap up until April or May. There have been 1,003 confirmed cases so far in Clark County, and 766 people have been hospitalized.

The Southern Nevada Health District told me that of the people who had died — not including the two latest deaths announced Friday — one had not had a flu shot, eight had received a flu shot, and in 13 deaths it was unknown whether they had been vaccinated.

Health officials all agree you should wash your hands frequently, and I do. My hands feel like sandpaper. I cough into my sleeve, not my hand. I try not to touch my eyes, nose or mouth with my hands.

No hugs policy

Now I’m taking another precaution. I’m trying not to hug people.

Realize, I am a born hugger. Friends I haven’t seen in a while get hugs; so do friends I see all the time.

With the flu season, a very dear friend has asked that I stop hugging her. So I have. But sometimes, with others, it feels odd.

At the Las Vegas Philharmonic at The Smith Center recently, I didn’t hug a couple of friends I don’t see often but like a lot.

At a recent fundraising event, I was swamped with hugs, coming and going. I couldn’t bring myself to push friends away or declare my new “no hugs” policy. It didn’t seem right.

Yet if someone is medically fragile, I restrain myself for their sake, even when it seems like it’s against my nature.

I haven’t come up with the proper solution. Air kisses seem phony. Throwing my hands up to block a hug seems extreme. Maybe a wave and a smile? A fist bump?

But if it means I could be protecting someone else, or myself, from spreading the flu virus, I will figure out the right way to tell people I’m delighted to see them, without infecting anyone.

By the way, I got my flu shot. And in most cases, so should you. The four stories above tell a sorrowful lesson.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Sundays in the Nevada section. Contact her at or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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