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Health Team

N.C. reports first swine flu death

Posted June 24, 2009 12:25 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2009 7:48 p.m. EDT

A Guilford County resident who died earlier this month in Greensboro is the state's first death linked to the H1N1 influenza virus, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

The adult patient, who died June 19 at Wesley Long Community Hospital, had an underlying medical condition. DHHS said lab tests following his death confirmed it was from the virus.

State health director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said Wednesday afternoon that 179 cases of the flu strain, also known as the swine flu, have been confirmed in 39 North Carolina, including Wake, Orange, Johnston, Harnett and Franklin.

Fifty-five cases have been confirmed since last Wednesday, including two at North Carolina State University involving students. Both are recovering and in self-isolation at home, according to a university news release.

Moses Cone Health System, meanwhile, said that the patient who died had a recent heart procedure at Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, a part of the same health system where 33 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit were quarantined after a respiratory therapist might have exposed them to the virus.

The health system said Tuesday that four of the infants had been released from the hospital and that the others showed no symptoms of the flu.

Dr. Timothy Lane, an infectious disease specialist and the medical director of Moses Cone's Infection Prevention Service, said the two instances of possible swine flu are not related.

The Moses Cone Health System, like others in the state, is seeing high numbers of people with flu-like symptoms. The individual who died "did not have any contact with other patients or staff known to have the flu or flu symptoms,” Lane said.

In the U.S., the number of swine flu cases exceeds 21,000, and more than 80 people in the U.S. have died from the illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been more than 30,000 cases of H1N1 reported worldwide.

Influenza-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea or vomiting associated with this virus.

Like seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus can vary in severity from mild to severe. This strain of influenza appears to be similar to seasonal flu, which kills about 30,000 people every year in the United States, Engel said.

Unlike the seasonal flu, he said, he does not expect the virus to taper off during the warm weather.

"Normally, seasonal flu is gone by April, may trickle into May but to see what we're seeing this summer nationwide, again in summer camps and other settings, as well, is definitely unique."

A vaccine that the federal government will provide for free since the swine flu is a pandemic, is in development, but Engel said the best way to help protect others is to follow good prevention practices every day.

Ways to help prevent the transmission of the H1N1 virus include:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoiding close contact with those who are sick.
  • Staying at home if you are sick.