Flu kills Florida woman in her 30s

12:00 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Melbourne, FL (Florida Today) -- A Brevard County woman has died from the flu and two other flu victims are on life support, the county Health Department said Monday.

Hospitals are seeing a surge in cases, and health officials encourage people to get a flu shot to protect themselves and to reduce the spread of the disease.

The woman who died Sunday at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne was in her mid- to late-30s, said Heidar Heshmati, director of the Health Department. He did not provide additional information about the patient.

A representative with Health First, which owns Holmes, referred questions about the case to the Health Department.

Heshmati said the two people on life support with influenza are a pregnant woman in her mid-30s at Holmes and a 62-year-old man at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville.

He said the pregnant woman had refused to get a flu vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women. The agency says the vaccine not only protects the pregnant woman, but her unborn child. The vaccine also will protect the baby after birth.

"Every year, we have some (deaths in Brevard from the flu)," Heshmati said. But he also said most - if not all - are preventable.

"If you get the shot, we are not going to have an outbreak," he said.

Last Thursday, the department issued a report, warning of an uptick in flu activity across the county and encouraging residents 6 months or older to get vaccinated.

"We have had quite an increase in the reports from hospitals," Barry Inman, an epidemiologist with the health department, said at the time. "We have had some severe cases that we have not seen in the past, at least not since the pandemic in 2009."

The 2009 outbreak infected more than 43 million people nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The Brevard Health Department does not keep a hard count on the number of cases, but of activity levels.

Dr. Robert Beatty, medical director of the emergency room of Wuesthoff Medical Center-Rockledge, said last week that his department treated more than 180 patients for influenza in December, but he expects more in the coming months. The flu season usually peaks in January and February.

Late Monday afternoon, Health First sent a community e-mail reminding people to get vaccinated.

"As you may have seen in the news recently, health care facilities across the state are seeing an increase in flu cases," the email said. "Health First and the Florida Department of Health are encouraging all Florida residents to get vaccinated if they have not done so already. According to the Florida Department of Health, most of the flu cases being reported are the H1N1 influenza - which is covered by the vaccine."

Last fall, Health First required all of its employees to receive flu shots.

The CDC says influenza kills about 36,000 people a year in the United States. Flu symptoms often appear quickly and include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and headaches or body aches.

The agency said in its most recent report that flu activity is increasing nationally, and it expects that trend to continue.

The best way to avoid the flu is by getting vaccinated.

"That's the only way to prevent this sort of thing," Heshmati said. "Not only for the person, but for the whole community."

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