Flu-linked deaths up in region

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 22, 2014 at 11:45 AM

Flu-related deaths are continuing to rise locally and at the state and national level. Locally, flu vaccine remains in good supply and available for free at health departments across the region.

Through Monday, Mountain States Health Alliance has had four flu-related deaths at its facilities this season, up from three deaths reported through Jan. 9.

MSHA Director of Infectious Disease Prevention Janie Swift said all of those deaths have occurred at Johnson City Medical Center, where 174 patients, including those seen in the hospital’s emergency department, have tested positive for flu since Dec. 1.

While Wellmont Health System’s facilities have not reported any flu-related deaths this flu season, 218 confirmed cases have been treated at its hospitals since October.

Swift said flu infection still appears to be climbing locally.

“Historically, in this region, you will see it peak in January or February,” she said. “People still need to be wary. The flu is circulating and the best thing you can do is go get the vaccine, if you haven’t had it already, and stay home if you are sick.”

The Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, which only reports flu-related deaths among children and women who are pregnant, reported one flu death during the week ending Jan. 11, the first in the seven-county area served by the office since the flu season began in October.

Office Public Relations Officer Beth Rader said 1.8 percent of all patients with flu-like symptoms treated at local health facilities that serve as sentinel offices for the federal Centers of Disease Control tested positive for flu during the week ending Jan. 11. Statewide, the percentage was 20.1 percent.

The CDC’s flu tracking data shows flu is now widespread in 41 states, and eight states are reporting regional outbreaks.

The CDC said the H1N1 influenza strain that resulted in a flu pandemic in 2009 is the predominant strain of infection again this year. It poses a greater risk to children and young adults than other strains, the CDC said.

The CDC reports 20 children have died with the flu nationwide this season, including 10 during the week that ended Jan. 11. Three child deaths have been reported in Tennessee so far this season.

Rader said the vaccine remains in good supply and is available at no cost at all county health departments in the region.

The Washington County Health Department, 219 Princeton Road, will conduct a flu vaccine clinic Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Flu shots may also be obtained by appointment by calling the department at 975-2200.

The Carter County Health Department, 403 E. G St., Elizabethton, is making the vaccine available without an appointment Monday through Friday from 8-3:30 p.m.

In Unicoi County, information on how to obtain a flu vaccine may be obtained by contacting the Health Department at 101 Okolona Drive, Erwin, or by calling 743-9103.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect number for the Unicoi County Health Depatrtment.

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