Flu claims 12 lives since October, Shands reports
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 5:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said North Florida Regional Medical Center did not have data on influenza-related hospital admissions. That information was provided by the hospital in a statement emailed to The Sun at 6:40 p.m. Thursday.
Twelve people with influenza have died at UF Health Shands Hospital since late October, with more than 150 people admitted with the virus -- marking a striking rise in the severity of cases, according to a UF media release Thursday.
Five of the people who died were under the age of 40, which also marks an unusual trend, since flu-related deaths typically hit the elderly.
The strain is a variant of the H1N1 virus, which emerged in 2009 and caused several thousands deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization labeled it a pandemic.
“One of the theories is that while we know that the vast majority of cases are H1N1, there is some thought that the H1N1 has changed,” said Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department.
“Clearly there is something that is different about the virus that is causing the severity in these patients.”
The local trend mirrors what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting throughout the country, according to UF.
From Oct. 1, 2013, through Jan. 9, nine patients were admitted to North Florida Regional Medical Center who had tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus, but there were no patient deaths reported from H1N1, the hospital said. Ocala Regional Medical Center and Munroe Regional Medical Center had not provided the data as of late Thursday.
Eleven of the dozen patients who died at Shands had not been vaccinated against the flu virus, according to the hospital. Shands did not have information on how many of the 150 admitted patients had received the vaccine, although Myers speculated it was very few since the vaccine is effective.
“Given what I know about influenza and the protection vaccination provides, it would not surprise me if a large majority were not vaccinated,” he said.
Three of the 12 people who died at Shands were from Alachua County, said Melanie Fridl Ross, director of UF Health Communications.
Alachua County residents have traditionally had comparatively lower levels of influenza compared to surrounding counties because the FluMist vaccine program in the schools has a “community immunity” effect, Myers said.
Since children are especially vulnerable to getting the flu, vaccinating them acts as a buffer for the rest of the population.
Last fall marked the 6-year-old program's most successful season yet, with 14 percent more kids vaccinated than last year. In all, 13,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade were vaccinated, Myers said.
None of the patients who died in Shands were pediatric patients, and only one pediatric patient in Florida has died this season from the flu, Myers added.
Myers encourages everyone to get the vaccine, especially since tests at the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute indicate that it is effective against this flu strain.
And peak flu season in Gainesville is just around the corner--usually in late January.
“We have not reached our peak flu season yet, and so it is not too late to get vaccinated,” Myers said, adding, “If you are ill, stay home, contact your primary care provider, and wash your hands frequently.”
The flu shot is available at local pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens, and at the Alachua County Health Department on a walk-in basis.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org