2 more swine flu-related deaths reported in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Two more deaths Tuesday night have now boosted Utah's H1N1 death toll to eight people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will update its state-by-state survey later this week, but as of last Friday's report, Utah is now second only to New York in the total number of deaths.

Though still a mild influenza for most people, H1N1 continues to follow a pattern of hitting a younger, middle-age group.

The two latest deaths involve a female Salt Lake County resident and a Davis County male. Both are between ages 25 and 50. Wednesday morning, State Epidemiologist Robert Rolfs gave a legislative committee sort of a state-of-the-state on the flu.

While illnesses may not be more severe, Utah's sickness level seems to be more active than other states.

Rolfs said, "The evidence we have now says we have a very active outbreak and probably as active, or more active, than anywhere else in the United States."

2 more swine flu-related deaths reported in Utah

With or without a positive test, almost every person who has influenza A symptoms is considered to have H1N1. It is the pervasive illness, so much so, the state lab is no longer testing to isolate the novel virus, except for serious cases requiring hospitalization.

In a press release the health department shared these statistics:

  • 129 hospitalized H1NI flu cases
    • 4 cases were in health care workers
    • 11 patients were pregnant
  • 8 individuals have died
  • Influenza-like illness rates for the previous week (June 7-June 13) are highest so far this season, but not higher than expected during a normal flu season.
  • Only 28 of the 129 hospitalized cases have occurred in children under 5 or adults over 65 years of age.
  • 384 influenza-associated (seasonal flu and novel flu) hospitalizations during 2008-09 influenza season.
  • Influenza-associated hospitalization counts in the past four seasons have ranged from 252 to 511.

CDC and local health departments are focusing on the virus itself--the middle age population that appears to be more vulnerable--and why things like obesity, sometimes with no underlying chronic condition, may be a risk fact. The CDC has asked Utah to help collect data on this anomaly; if in fact it is one. "Obesity, unfortunately, is very common in the general population," Rolfs said. "We haven't got the studies yet to show whether it is more common among people who are getting seriously ill than it would be in other people."

Public health researchers are looking at other theories as well. They say older people may not be coming down with this flu because they were exposed to another similar pandemic in the '50s.

They also say the state's population is relatively young and the virus seems to impact younger people overall.

2 more swine flu-related deaths reported in Utah

"People over 50 or 60 have some immunity against the virus," explained Rolfs. "We don't know why. There are some theories. One is maybe that having lived longer and being exposed to more different viruses over time makes you more protected."

The severity of H1N1 now is no worse than any other influenza outbreak. In fact, the death toll of eight is still a far cry from the 200 to 400 related deaths Utah averages yearly from the conventional flu.

According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, the number of influenza-associated deaths varies from year to year because flu seasons often fluctuate in length and severity.

CDC estimates that from the 1993-94 flu season through 2002-03, 36,171 flu-related deaths occurred per year, on average in the United States.

Flu-related deaths are deaths that occur in people for whom influenza infection was likely a contributor to the cause of death, but not necessarily the primary cause of death.

With these two most recent deaths in Utah, there are 50 deaths related to the H1N1 flu throughout the United States. As of June 12, New York had the most with 13. The CDC updates its numbers every Friday.

This week, the World Health Organization reported 35,928 cases in 76 countries throughout the world.

Nationwide, the CDC reported 17,855 cases in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

E-mail: eyeates@ksl.com

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