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Flu still a danger; residents should still get flu shots; one death reported in PRC

With news from the State Health Department on Tuesday that since August 22 people — which included one reported death in Pearl River County — have died from “influenza-related” causes, health officials are saying the flu danger is not over and urged residents who have not done so, to get their flu shots.

The State Health Department’s statement on Tuesday was the first time a death related to the flu has been reported as occurring in Pearl River County.

Liz Sharlott, state health department director of communications, said the victim was a “female adult,” but added that federal guidelines won’t let her release any other information on the incident.

Dr. James M. Riser said on Thursday that he was “not aware” of any deaths being reported in Pearl River County related to the flu, but he added that in the last week his clinic had diagnosed 12 new flu cases. He said that before that, his clinic had gone about a month without diagnosing any cases.

He said he could not say whether the flu cases diagnosed were swine flu or the seasonal flu until tests come back.

Riser said supplies of both vaccines are plentiful and residents should still get a vaccination if they haven’t so far gotten one.

He said school students can get flu vaccines at Riser Medical Associates at no cost.

Officials said residents should take both the regular flu shot and the H1N1 swine flu injection.

Officials said supplies of the shots are plentiful and readily available to everyone who wants to be vaccinated.

Said Dr. Robert Travnecik, district health director, from his office in Gulfport, “The short and the long answer is, Yes, the danger is still there.”

He said that just because news coverage and discussion of the flu has waned, that does not mean that the danger doesn’t still exist. He urged residents who have not received vaccination for both strains to do so.

The State Health Department said that since Aug. 29, the beginning of the 2009-10 flu season, there have been 22 influenza-related deaths in Mississippi.

The latest death, said health officials, is a female child in DeSoto County.

For the first time, a death was reported in Pearl River County, although state health officials gave no details on any of the reported deaths, only the statewide number. The State Health Dept. does not release names.

Officials said four deaths have been reported in Jones, two in Jackson, two in Tate, two in Washington and one each in Alcorn, Covington, DeSoto, Hancock, Hinds, Marion, Pearl River, Pike, Simpson, Stone, Tippah and Webster counties, making 22 statewide.

Said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier, “Sadly, this serves as a remainder that all Mississippians, regardless of age or health conditions, need to get a wine flu vaccination.”

Officials said the vaccine is available at the county health departments and also through private providers. The shots are available to the general public from ages from six months and older.

Said Currier, “Those who have not received the swine flu vaccine could find themselves vulnerable in the event of a third wave of swine flu.”

She continued, “While individuals who are over 65 years of age are not at high risk for infection, they are certainly at high risk for complications like pneumonia if they become infected.”

She added, “This is a perfect window of opportunity for personal protection if you have not already received the vaccine. It is not too late.”

The Associated Press reported that the swine flu vaccine has been available since early October and since then manufacturers have made available 111 million doses.

Dr. Anne Schuchat with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the AP that an estimated 60 million Americans have received the swine flu vaccine and an intensive monitoring of side effects has turned up no safety concerns.

Schuchat told the AP that flu activity has slowed nationally but that is no reason to become complacent. “It’s not gone,” she said.

The AP reported that the swine flu pandemic began in April, a larger wave of infections started in late summer and is declining and that infections are still widespread in 11 states. However, infections had been recorded 48 states in late October.

A near panic occurred in Pearl River County when school started in August at Poplarville when an estimated 50 students were reported as showing symptoms of a flu-like virus. Health officials would not say at first what it was but later confirmed that it was H1N1.

Poplarville school officials began issuing information about the problem and later were successful in dampening the panic.

Flu cases were reported throughout Pearl River County’s three school systems, but not as much as was prevalent in Poplarville.

Local health and school officials, with the help of Riser Medical Associates in Picayune, began vaccinating students in the county in early December and had vaccinated all the students wanting the shots by the end of December.

Since then concern about the flu has seemed to wane here.

Local pharmacies are offering the shot and so are private doctors. The county health dept. at Carriere also is offering the vaccinations.