MANATEE — Swine flu has taken the life of a 27-year-old woman in Manatee, the first reported death here caused by the H1N1 virus, the Manatee County Health Department reported Friday.
The woman, whose name was not released, had an underlying medical condition that put her at greater risk of complications from the flu, Manatee health officials said. Officials also declined to release the underlying condition or where she might have worked.
“We offer our sincere condolences to this individual’s family and friends for their loss,” said health department administrator Dr. Jennifer Bencie.
Health officials consider the flu outbreak in Manatee to be “widespread,” Manatee health department epidemiologist Ron Cox said. Eighteen other Florida counties, including Sarasota, share that distinction.
About 98 percent of the flu cases now in Manatee are swine flu, Cox said.
Health departments across the state have stopped counting cases of swine flu, because the vast majority of all flu cases reported are swine flu.
And the seasonal flu season officially doesn’t begin until Oct. 4.
“Right now, if you get the flu in Manatee, it is most likely swine flu,” Cox said.
That trend is in line with reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that through Sept. 19, 99 percent of all flu viruses being reported were swine flu.
Though swine flu deaths remain under the epidemic threshhold, 936 fatalities have been reported in the United States through Sept. 19, with 89 in Florida. Locally, there have been three deaths in Sarasota, three in Polk, four in Pinellas, and six in Hillsborough. Miami-Dade County has the most in Florida, with 22.
The Florida Health Department has only been tracking swine flu hospitalizations for certain categories of people, including patients with life-threatening illnesses and pregnant women and those that end with death.
To date, only five such cases have been reported in Manatee. So the swine flu outbreak is not as deadly as the normal seasonal flu that people catch every year, according to Cox. The CDC reports that an average of 36,000 people a year die from flu-related complications, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.
Manatee averaged 37 flu-related deaths a year between 2004 and 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available. “There is a better chance of dying from the seasonal flu than from swine flu,” Cox said.
There is no vaccine currently available for swine flu, and a seasonal flu shot will not prevent it, but doses of the new vaccine are expected in Manatee by mid-October, Cox said.
People with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women, the elderly and the very young are the most susceptible to swine flu, and will be offered vaccinations first. Then the vaccine will be available to the general public.
While most swine flu cases are mild, pre-existing health conditions often play a role in how individuals react to the flu. People who are at-risk are strongly encouraged to call their health-care providers if they experience flu-like symptoms. Those include people with underlying medical conditions, including asthma, diabetes, immune system problems, heart disease and kidney disease.
There is now a hotline established by the Florida Health Department — (877) 352-3581 — that people can call from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day for public health information and updates on swine flu.