Dover (January 15, 2015) – The number of Delaware flu fatalities for this flu season has climbed to 13 with two new deaths this week and a total of 1526 lab-confirmed cases to date. All but one of the deceased is over age 70 (the other fatality was 53-years-old) and all 13 had underlying conditions. The Division of Public Health (DPH) is urging seniors and their caretakers to be particularly cautious this flu season.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones this flu season. The number of deaths is unprecedented compared to recent years. We are extremely concerned,” said Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Rita Landgraf. “The elderly are especially vulnerable this flu season and we urge people to take extra precautions to reduce any possible exposure to the flu virus.”
The individual circumstances of the fatalities varied. Approximately half of the deaths were individuals in long-term care facilities and half were not. The individual’s ages, underlying conditions, and location (e.g. where they lived in Delaware) also showed variations.
“This year the flu is causing serious illness and fatalities among seniors regardless of whether someone lives at home or in long-term care, their type of underlying health condition, or geographic location. The flu can be a particularly hard on the elderly and other vulnerable people every year, but extra precautions to protect people’s health is more important now than ever,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH Division Director. “Someone can accidently transmit the flu prior to realizing they are ill, so precautions like vaccination, covering coughs and sneezes, and hand sanitizing are vital. Of course, once symptoms begin to show, staying home to avoid further spread of the illness is also important. Prevention remains our best weapon in this fight.”
To protect seniors and vulnerable populations DPH recommends:
Ensure all your loved ones are vaccinated against the illness. Vaccines are available from DPH clinics, physicians, pharmacies, and many grocery stores.
If you are receiving treatment in a long-term care facility or in-home care, ask if the staff is vaccinated against the flu and, if not, the staff person should be wearing a mask at all times.
Visits at home or in a facility should be limited if the visitor is under age 16, or has the flu or is at risk of exposure to the flu. The illness can be transmitted prior to someone showing symptoms.
If living with a senior and a family member contracts the flu, keep the two separate as much as possible and ensure everyone in the home follows sanitary precautions.
Wash hands frequently with soap frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after you cough, sneeze or touch your face.
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to six feet.
Stay home when sick and do not return to work or school until 24 hours after a fever is gone.
In addition to seniors, others who are most vulnerable are the very young, pregnant women and those who recently gave birth, and people with underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and individuals with weak immune systems.
These precautions should be applied to these groups as well. And, if anyone in this group begins to show symptoms of the flu, contact a medical provider immediately. Anti-virals may need to be prescribed to help lessen the severity and length of the illness, but are most effective if taken early.
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Each year a few strains of the flu will circulate. So far this season, DPH has reported influenza A (H3N2) viruses most frequently compared to other strains. Past experience indicates that when this particular strain is more common, there have been more hospitalizations and deaths, especially among those at highest risk of complications from flu infection.
Ten of the recent deaths were in New Castle County, two in Kent and one in Sussex. Previous Delaware flu death totals for the entire flu season are:
· 2009-10: 7
· 2010-11: 5
· 2011-12: 0
· 2012-13: 4
· 2013-14: 6
For further information on the flu and DPH flu clinics, visit flu.delaware.gov or call 800-282-8672.
A person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, or speech-disabled can call the DPH phone number above by using TTY services. Dial 7-1-1 or 800-232-5460 to type your conversation to a relay operator, who reads your conversation to a hearing person at DPH. The relay operator types the hearing person’s spoken words back to the TTY user. To learn more about TTY availability in Delaware, visit delawarerelay.com
Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware’s citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations. DPH, a division of DHSS, urges Delawareans to make healthier choices with the 5-2-1 Almost None campaign: eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables each day, have no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time each day (includes TV, computer, gaming), get 1 or more hours of physical activity each day, drink almost no sugary beverages.