2 more swine flu deaths in Hawaii
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
A woman who was hospitalized with pneumonia and a man with no apparent underlying conditions became Hawai'i's 12th and 13th deaths connected to the 2009 H1N1 virus, reminding health officials that the swine flu pandemic is far from over.
The majority of Hawai'i's swine flu deaths — 10 — occurred from July through August. Before yesterday's announcement of the two deaths within the past few weeks, Hawai'i had not seen a swine flu fatality since October.
Both of the recent victims lived on O'ahu.
The woman, in her 30s, died in late December after being hospitalized for pneumonia. The 50-year-old man died last week after being admitted to a hospital.
Across the country, swine flu infections have been waning since late October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week estimated that 55 million people became ill from swine flu from the time it was first identified in April through mid-December, according to The Associated Press.
As of last week, about 246,000 Americans were hospitalized and 11,160 died from swine flu, the AP reported.
Hawai'i's first swine flu death occurred June 19 at Tripler Army Medical Center.
In the more recent December death, the woman in her 30s had "underlying medical conditions that contributed to her decline and death," the state Health Department said.
But the man had no known underlying medical conditions.
"These very different cases illustrate the importance of paying attention to risk factors," state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said in a statement. "In one case, we see the increased risk for those suffering from chronic conditions and weakened immune systems. The other case is a reminder to otherwise healthy individuals that flu-like illness can rapidly worsen and to be aware of serious symptoms requiring prompt medical attention."
State health director Dr. Chiyome Fukino urged everyone to get vaccinated.
"Vaccine supplies are now widely available and the flu season is still with us, so please don't wait to get this protection against the flu," Fukino said in a statement.
Overall, Hawai'i's current experience with all types of flu cases appears to be following a five-year average, Park said.
"However, DOH is monitoring it, as we are just starting what would be our regular flu season and we do not know what may come in future months," she said.
Hawai'i has had a different experience with swine flu than the Mainland has.
A second wave of cases that swept across the Mainland last year never materialized in the Islands, but health officials are still preparing for the possibility.
"Hawai'i seems to be in a good spot right now, as many folks in our priority groups and now beyond those groups continue to be vaccinated," Park said. "We're hopeful that this will translate to a lack of a second wave for us, but it's too soon to tell."
As of yesterday, Hawai'i had been allotted 651,100 doses of H1N1 vaccine from the national supply, and health officials estimated that at least 500,000 doses had been shipped or were in transit for providers.
Some 324 of 328 participating schools had completed their vaccination clinics as of Tuesday, covering 54,520 students.
For more information on swine flu, where to get vaccinated and emergency warning signs, visit flu.hawaii.gov or call Aloha United Way at 211.