EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2013

N.H. has seen 35 flu-related deaths

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie
jmackenzie@eagletribune.com

---- — CONCORD — At 35, New Hampshire already has recorded the most flu-related deaths since the state started keeping track.

Such records only date back to 1997, when 30 people died of the illness here.

Still, the numbers are concerning and the flu season likely is far from over, state health officials said yesterday.

Included in the latest deaths is a child under the age of 5. The remaining 34 fatalities were all people over the age of 65.

”A pediatric death is concerning, but not unexpected,” said Chris Adamski, bureau chief for infectious disease control for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Nationally, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die every year from flu-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Massachusetts has seen a pretty dramatic drop in the number of cases in the past two weeks, the same cannot be said in the Granite State.

“We suspect we may have seen the worst, but we’re still reporting widespread activity,” Adamski said yesterday. “We can’t say with certainty that we’ve seen the peak. I think some indicators are showing downward trends.”

Those indicators include the number of people hospitalized for flu-related illness and the number of people showing up in doctors’ offices with flu-like symptoms.

But the season could be far from over, she emphasized, even if it peaks soon.

“It’s been early and active,” Adamski said. “Every flu season is very unpredictable — when it arrives, how severe it is, the impact to a particular population.”

Flu season technically can be around until May, she said. Last year, although a relatively mild year, the season lasted until late April or May, she said.

”There are some good signs, decreases in flu-like illnesses and hospitalizations,” Adamski said. “Clearly, we’ve had a pretty significant year, not just in New Hampshire, but also nationally.”

For anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated, Adamski urged them to do so.

“It’s still not too late to get a vaccine,” she said. “If you have not been vaccinated, know it’s still out there and the vaccine is still available. Be aware it is a very active season.”

Also, she said, simple steps like frequent hand washing, sneezing into your elbow, staying home from work and school when you’re ill all matter — a lot.

“We can’t say it enough,” she said.

The vaccine this year has been a good match for the strain of flu being seen, although it’s not a guarantee a shot will prevent the flu. But, Adamski said, it usually does mean a less severe case and a shorter run of illness.

The state doesn’t track vaccination rates, except in the under age-19 population and reports from institutions, including long-term care facilities.

All vaccines are free in New Hampshire for anyone under the age of 19. To date, the state has distributed 155,230 such flu vaccines and 103,680 of those have been administered.

But, Adamski said, vaccination rates in institutions vary widely, from lows near 70 percent to some as high as 90 percent.

Thirteen people died of flu-related illnesses last month here, a record high for December. To date this month, 22 deaths have been reported, also a record for the month.

“I don’t know that it’s alarming; we have to pay close attention to trends,” Adamski said. “It’s a high year certainly for influenza-related deaths. But our methods and systems of tracking data have changed. We have to take it in context.”