DOVER, N.H. — The state Department of Health and Human Services confirmed another death related to widespread influenza in New Hampshire was reported on Friday, bringing the total number of deaths for this flu season to 14.
The announcement marked the first death reported in the new year, with a total of 19 deaths reported in 2012 and 13 in the month of December. DHHS Public Information Special Nicola Whitley confirmed none of the deaths were of juveniles.
The department reported in a press release this is a more severe flu season than seen in recent years, with 40 institutional outbreaks so far in the 2012 to 2013 season. Last year’s season, from 2011 to 2012, showed about 20 to 30 outbreaks for the entire period, according to Whitley.
In Maine, the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said its number of recorded outbreaks — where influenza is reported in smaller, confined areas like long-term care facilities and universities — had more than quintupled, from about 10 recorded cases in the 2011 to 2012 season to 57 so far this cycle. A Maine child died from the flu in December.
The most predominant strain recorded in the Granite State is Influenza A, or H3N2, according to the state DHHS. The flu vaccine this year protects against this as well as Influenza B and H1N1, commonly referred to as “swine flu.” The New Hampshire Public Health laboratories have so far tested 408 specimens and 238 were positive for influenza, according to the state department.
New Hampshire Public Health Director Dr. Jose Montero said the reports are not yet “alarming,” according to the release, though there is a “serious cause” for concern. An average of 25,000 people die each in the in the U.S. from the flu.
“…It is cause for serious concern especially since we have now seen 14 influenza related deaths so far this season, which is unusually high for this early in the season,” Dr. Montero said. “It’s important for people to remember to take steps to prevent becoming ill, most important is vaccination.”
The readily-available vaccine can take up to two weeks to go into full effect, but officials say it is not too late to take advantage of its protection. The season typically lasts until April and it is unknown if this time of year will mark the peak as it has in years past.
The state department urges those over the age of 6 months to get immunized and stay home if a person is showing signs of the flu to reduce the spread of the illness.
Friday afternoon, Exeter Hospital also announced due to the recently reported outbreaks, it would voluntarily restrict inpatient, medical and radiation oncology visitor access beginning that day.
“This temporary restriction is a safety precaution for our patients, staff and visitors,” a press release read.
The restriction will only allow two visitors at a time and children under the age of 14 are not allowed, with exception for siblings visiting the hospital family center who must be screened by the center receptionist beforehand. The hospital is also asking people not to visit if they have a fever, sore throat or cough. Patients or visitors with questions are asked to call 603-580-6668.
For more information on influenza and the vaccine, contact the state Immunization Program at 800-852-3345 ext. 4482 or 603-271-4482 or the Communicable Disease Surveillance Section at 800-852-3345 ext. 0279 or 603-271-0279. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov for more information or the DHHS website at www.dhhs.nh.gov. To get the flu vaccine, contact your health care provider or visit a local pharmacy.