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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 5, 2009

First H1N1 death in Albany County

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — H1N1 influenza has taken its first life in Albany County, according to a release this week from the county’s health department.

The unnamed adolescent died from complications related to a longstanding underlying medical condition and had a flu-like illness before dying last week, the department said; test results received on Nov. 2 confirmed the presence of H1N1. This is one of 10 pediatric deaths in New York State due to H1N1 influenza.

The health department is releasing no further information about the person who died.

“This news, while troubling, should not be cause for alarm,” Albany County Health Commissioner James Crucetti said in a statement. “The H1N1 virus continues to be a predominately mild illness and this fatality does not mean the H1N1 virus has changed to cause more severe illness.”

Most American children who have died from H1N1 have had, like the Albany County youth, an underlying medical condition, increasing their risk for complications if they get the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control reported last week that H1N1 flu was involved in the death of 19 children in the United States; 48 states, including New York, are reporting widespread influenza.

The county health department advises that those who are at increased risk if they contract the flu should contact their health-care provider if they show flu-like symptoms since antiviral medication is available.

The availability of flu vaccine has been limited. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of last week, New York State had been allocated 560,200 doses of the H1N1 vaccine out of over 30 million doses distributed nationwide.

The county health department lists those at risk for complications as children younger than 2 and adults older than 64; pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum; people who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, hematological, or metabolic disorders; people with immunosuppression; people younger than 19 on long-term aspirin therapy; and people with disorders that compromise respiratory function.

Flu overview

The Centers for Disease Control explains that the H1N1 virus was first detected in people in the United States in April. In June, the World Health Organization signaled that a pandemic was underway. The CDC explains that the new virus has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia (hence the popular name, “swine flu”) and bird and human genes — what scientists call a “quadruple reassortant” virus.

H1N1 is a Type A influenza virus, named for two proteins found on the surface of the virus — hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. A pandemic virus, according to the CDC, has to have a new hemagglutinin or a new hemagglutinin and neuraminidase protein on a virus that has not circulated among humans before and to which most or all of the population has no protective antibodies.

About 70 percent of the people who have been hospitalized with the H1N1 virus are considered to be at high-risk from serious seasonal flu-related complications, including pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease.

Young children and people over age 65, if they get sick, are at high risk of serious complications from H1N1 just as they are from seasonal flu. Interestingly, though, those over 65 are the least likely to be infected with swine flu; CDC laboratory studies have shown that no children and very few adults younger than 60 have existing antibodies to the H1N1 virus while about one-third of adults over 60 may have antibodies.

So far, swine flu has hospitalized at least 20,000 Americans and killed over 1,000. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5. Over 90 percent of deaths and about 60 percent of the patients hospitalized are over 65.

When to go to the hospital

This week, the American College of Emergency Physicians issued guidance for the public on when to visit hospital emergency rooms with H1N1 flu symptoms.

The guidelines begin with the question, “Do you have a fever or feel feverish and have a cough or sore throat?” If the answer is “no,” then emergency medical care is probably unwarranted.

If the answer is “yes,” the guidelines offer a list of symptoms that indicate severe illness that does warrant a visit to the emergency room, such as difficulty breathing, inability to keep liquids down, and changes in behavior.

Finally, the guidelines list conditions, such as pregnancy or chronic heart disease, that might require a trip to the emergency room if accompanied by a fever, cough, or sore throat.

The guidelines were developed with the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

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