50-year-old, otherwise healthy Kansan dies from H1N1
Johnson County woman is first in state without underlying health concerns to die from virus, officials say
The seriousness of the H1N1 flu hit close to home today when state health officials announced the first death from the virus of a Kansan with no serious prior medical problems.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said the death occurred in a 50-year-old woman from the Kansas City area. Johnson County health officials said the woman was a county resident. It is the seventh death in the state officially attributed to the pandemic virus and the second in Johnson County.
Laboratory testing confirmed that the woman had the H1N1 virus on Oct. 5, and her death was reported Tuesday afternoon to KDHE. The woman died after more than a week of hospitalization, health officials said.
“The death being reported today reminds us of the importance of taking this virus very seriously,” said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas state health officer. “The H1N1 vaccine has started arriving in the state and it is important for Kansans to know that this is a safe and effective tool we have for fighting this virus. While supplies of the vaccine are very limited at this time, we will soon have sufficient quantities to starting vaccinating larger groups, and I encourage Kansans to stay informed.”
The pandemic H1N1 virus is causing widespread illness throughout Kansas and the United States. Health officials say visits to healthcare providers for influenza-like illness have been increasing in most regions of Kansas as well as throughout the United States over the past few weeks and are substantially higher than what is typically seen at this time of year.
H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to those of the seasonal flu and include fever greater than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people who have been ill with H1N1 influenza have recovered without medical treatment, officials say.
However, some people develop serious complications that require hospitalization or may lead to death. Although serious complications are more likely among persons with certain underlying chronic health conditions, this pandemic influenza virus has caused serious complications and deaths among persons without such factors.
KDHE officials pointed to a recent review of hospitalized patients with confirmed 2009 H1N1 influenza virus infection across the United States. The study, published online Oct. 8 by the New England Journal of Medicine, said more than one-fourth of patients (27 percent) had no underlying chronic health conditions that are recognized to increase the risk of complications from influenza. And unlike typical seasonal influenza, the 2009 H1N1 virus is causing a greater disease burden among adolescents and young adults.
KDHE is no longer accepting specimens from everyone who sees a doctor with symptoms. In non-hospitalized cases, confirmatory testing does not affect treatment and advice given to patients by health care providers.
Most children and adults with the flu who are generally in good health will recover without needing to visit a health care provider. Some people may want to call their health care provider for advice on how to care for the flu at home, KDHE said.
Individuals who experience severe illness or who are at high risk of complications from H1N1 influenza infection, including children less than 5 years of age, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, and persons with chronic medical conditions (including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions), should contact their health care provider.
State health officials said the H1N1 vaccine is starting to arrive in Kansas, but in limited quantities.
Until people are vaccinated against the virus, KDHE encourages individuals to take the following steps to reduce its spread:
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to get rid of most germs and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• If you become sick, stay home until at least 24 hours after fever or signs of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, in order to avoid spreading illness to co-workers and friends.
• Cough or sneeze into a tissue and properly dispose of used tissues. If you do not have a tissue, cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow and not your hands.
• Stay healthy by eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate rest and exercise.
KDHE has established a toll-free phone number, (877) 427-7317, for concerned Kansans to call with questions about the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus. Operators will be available to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Persons calling will be directed to press “1” on their touch-tone phone to be directed to an operator who can answer questions.
Kansans with questions about the virus can e-mail H1N1fluinfo@kdheks.gov. Information is also available online from KDHE at kdheks.gov.