DPH Additional Flu-related Deaths

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The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) continues to urge individuals to take steps to prevent the flu as the number of confirmed flu cases continues to increase, and health officials announce additional flu-related deaths for the 2019-2020 season. To date, nine Delawareans have passed away due to flu-related complications during the 2019-2020 flu season. All nine individuals had underlying medical conditions.

Most recently, an 83-year-old woman from New Castle County who was diagnosed with influenza A passed away this week due to complications from the flu. Last week, a 59-year-old woman from New Castle County who was also diagnosed with influenza A passed away due to flu complications. Of the nine individuals who have passed away this season, they range in age from 29 to 96. Five persons were from New Castle County, one was from Kent County and three were from Sussex County. Six individuals were diagnosed with Influenza A and three were diagnosed with Influenza B. Two of the nine individuals who died from flu complications received the flu vaccine this season.

As of February 15, 2020, there have been 5,047 confirmed cases of influenza in Delaware, including 267 hospitalizations. These numbers reflect only the number of lab-confirmed cases; the actual number of cases circulating statewide is likely much higher. By comparison, at the same time in the 2018-2019 season, there were 3,264 flu cases in Delaware, including 537 hospitalizations, and 13 flu-related deaths.
“We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those we have lost due to the flu,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. People six months and older should receive the flu vaccine every year. The vaccine’s main purpose is to make you less likely to catch the flu, but if you still catch it, the vaccine will make your symptoms milder. It takes two weeks for the antibodies in the flu vaccine to become fully effective, so if you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, you should make arrangements to do so as soon as possible. Always remember to take any antiviral medicine that your doctor prescribes as needed, also.”

In addition to getting a flu vaccine and taking antiviral medication, DPH recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home when you are sick.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Over-the-counter medicines can provide symptom relief, but if you suspect you have influenza, call your doctor as he or she may decide to provide antiviral medications to help hasten recovery and prevent serious complications. This is particularly important for those who feel very sick, are pregnant or have chronic medical conditions.

The risk for flu-related deaths is greatly increased in the very young, older individuals, and those of any age who have underlying health conditions. DPH continues to remind the public that there are steps they can take to prevent the spread of the flu. It is important for older individuals with underlying health conditions not only to be vaccinated, but also to limit contact with anyone who may be sick with influenza, and to contact their health care provider as soon as they become ill. Also, family, friends, and caregivers of older individuals with underlying health conditions should be vaccinated and arrange for alternative care, if possible, if they become sick with influenza.
DPH also recommends that individuals with chronic diseases monitor and manage their conditions, as non-compliance with physician’s recommendations can increase the risk for infection and complications. This includes maintaining appointments with their health care provider, taking medications as prescribed, and following diet and exercise recommendations from their doctor. Additionally, individuals who smoke and who are ready to stop using tobacco are encouraged to call the Delaware Quitline at 1-866-409-1858.

Flu symptoms come on suddenly, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue. Some people get complications including pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma are more susceptible to catching the flu.

Flu vaccines are available at many pharmacies and grocery stores, and through primary care physicians and some specialists. To find participating stores, enter your ZIP code in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu vaccine finder at www.cdc.gov/flu/. For more information about the flu, visit flu.delaware.gov/ or call DPH at 1-800-282-8672.