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2 flu deaths reported in Alaska

Posted: January 5, 2014 - 1:03am

ANCHORAGE — Two adult Alaskans died from the flu in the past week, according to state health officials.

The deaths are the first to be reported during Alaska’s 2013-14 influenza season — which has been picking up — and the first since new rules requiring health care facilities to report adult flu deaths to the state took effect in late December.

Before, Alaska only tracked deaths among children. The state has not been notified of any child deaths so far this flu season.

“People think, ‘Oh it’s just the flu,’” said Dr. Brian Yablon, a state epidemiologist. “But flu actually is a common cause of death every winter. It’s a good thing to be able to track.”

The state Department of Health and Social Services did not disclose the names, ages or hometowns of the Alaskans who died.

The deadly H1N1, or the so-called swine flu, triggered more than 90 percent of the 290 laboratory-confirmed flu cases in Alaska since September, the Anchorage Daily News reported. It’s the flu strain behind the worldwide pandemic in 2009 that swept across more than 209 countries and killed more than 14,140 people.

A lab test confirmed that one of the adult flu deaths in Alaska was caused by H1N1, Yablon said. The other tested positive for the flu under a test designed for a quick reading. The state is awaiting confirmation from a lab test.

“Most of the positive tests are true influenza,” Yablon said. “There can be false positives but in the middle of flu season, it’s likely to be flu.”

Unlike in 2009, the H1N1 strain is part of this year’s vaccination, said Gerri Yett, the immunization program manager for the health department.

“There’s an ample supply of vaccine available still,” she said.

Alaska State health officials say they’ll waive the administrative fee for the state-supplied flu vaccine for certain Alaskans in an effort to get more people immunized. For those who qualify, that $28 fee is being waived through March at all state public health centers and the Anchorage Public Health Center.

Alaska vaccinated 39.7 percent of residents older than 6 months during the 2012-13 flu season, the most current statistics available.

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