The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) announced the fourth and fifth flu-related fatalities in Delaware for the current season, as well as a continued sharp increase in cases for those ages 0 – 24.
Both of the deceased individuals were elderly, and had multiple underlying health conditions in addition to being infected with influenza.
The first week of February, an 86-year-old Kent County man, residing in a nursing home, passed away after being transported to the hospital. Last week, a 90-year-old New Castle County man who lived at home passed away. He had also been transported to the hospital as a result of his illness. Both men were infected with Influenza A.
The number of lab-confirmed flu cases this season is significantly higher than last year at this time. As of the week ending Feb. 11, there have been 1,296 lab-confirmed cases in Delaware with 263 requiring hospitalization. In comparison, at the same time last year, there were 58 lab-confirmed flu cases statewide with 10 requiring hospitalization.
The 2015-2016 season saw an unusually late peak in flu activity, which generally occurs between December and February. The first flu-related death in Delaware for the 2015-2016 season occurred on March 14, 2016.
Of the 1,296 cases, 772 infected individuals are from New Castle County, 321 from Kent County, and 203 from Sussex County. These numbers reflect lab-confirmed cases, and the actual number of flu cases in Delaware is likely much higher.
Of the lab-confirmed cases, 224 individuals are 65 years of age or older. Of the 263 individuals hospitalized so far this flu season, 142 (54 percent) have been 65 or older. While it affects those of all ages, the flu virus is more likely to cause fatalities in the elderly. All five victims who have died from flu-related illnesses this season were elderly individuals (65 years old or older) with underlying health conditions.
Persons in the 0 to 24-year-old age group are also being hit particularly hard this flu season. Of the season’s lab-confirmed flu cases, 704 are in this age group or 54 percent of all cases.
“This year’s flu numbers reinforce the unpredictability of influenza,” said Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker. “Given that we see such wide variation almost every year, taking all the steps to prevent the flu is vital. Getting vaccinated, washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when ill can protect you and your loved ones.”
DPH is still advising that persons with emerging flu symptoms should call—not visit—their medical providers, who may be able to prescribe anti-viral medication. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.
“Flu is not a disease to be taken lightly,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. “If someone has underlying health conditions, is pregnant or has a young child at home who is ill, call your doctor immediately if you have flu-like symptoms.”
DPH recommends these actions to protect seniors and vulnerable populations, including the very young, pregnant women, and those who recently gave birth, and people with underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and individuals with weak immune systems: