Recent deaths may be flu-related

The death of six elderly residents of a Carson City nursing home may be connected with the influenza outbreak.

Five people died at the Evergreen Mountain View Care Center on Koontz Lane on Tuesday, according to Carson City Sheriff's Department reports. Another resident, who was taken to Carson-Tahoe Hospital died Tuesday evening.

Representatives of the care center had no comment when contacted Thursday night.

According to the Nevada State Health Division, six nursing home deaths over the past two days are being investigated for a possible connection to influenza.

The deaths are being investigated by the Nevada State Health Division, but State Epidemiologist Dr. Randall Todd was not willing to name the facility or facilities involved.

"We're starting to see influenza cases in nursing home facilities, and we learned (Wednesday) some of these deaths might be flu related," he said. "The cause of death is still under investigation. We should know something early next week."

He said no pediatric deaths related to influenza have been brought to his attention. The flu season hit about a month earlier than usual, and the number of cases has already exceeded last year's, with respect to doctor visits.

"Last year when the influenza outbreak was at its peak in Nevada, about 6 percent of office visits were for flu-related problems," he said. "Right now, about 10 percent of those visits are flu-related, and we don't know if the epidemic has peaked."

To make matters worse, the state is almost out of vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has purchased all the remaining vaccine from the manufacturer, and Todd expects a shipment from them today. He could not say how much would be delivered, but more is expected at a later date.

The vaccines will be distributed among Nevada's community health nursing clinics in rural Nevada, in addition to the Washoe County District Health Department and Clark County Health District.

He said about 82 percent of those cultures submitted for influenza testing nationally are Influenza A Fujiian, a strain not completely covered by the vaccine.

"With the vaccine, there should be at least some protection," he said. "The illness could be less severe in a vaccinated individual. I liken it to standing in a rainstorm with a hole in your umbrella. You're still going to get wet, but you'll be drier than without the umbrella."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 36,000 people die of influenza in the United States each year. Todd said those numbers include patients dying of influenza-related pneumonia.

Older persons can get the flu, which leaves them vulnerable to a secondary infection, usually pneumonia. Symptoms of flu include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, are much more common among children than adults.

Following a few simple rules, like frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing and staying home when sick, can do much to minimize the hazard for everyone, Todd said.

The Nevada State Health Division is recommending health-care providers target their remaining vaccine supplies to groups at highest risk of severe complications:

- Healthy children aged 23 months-6 years old

- Adults 65 or older

- Pregnant women in their second or third trimester during influenza season

- Children under 2 years with underlying chronic conditions

- Adults 65 years or older and living in institutionalized settings

- Anyone with an underlying respiratory disease

The next priority should be given to vaccinating those people at greatest risk of transmitting the disease to persons at high risk, such as health-care workers.

"Parents should try to keep babies and young children away from people who have flu-like illnesses," said Dr. Bradford Lee, Nevada state health officer.

Carson City Health Director Darren Winkelman said he's heard about the deaths, but did not know where they occurred. The state handles all nursing homes in Carson City.


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