H1N1 influenza arrives in Alaska

by Ben Matheson on November 7, 2013

Alaska has not experienced its first flu fatality of the year. State epidemiologists were investigating the death Tuesday of a young woman from a middle Yukon Village. An early test indicated that she had died from contracting H1N1, commonly called the swine flu. According to the state, the results came back negative yesterday on influenza. The Department of Health tells the Alaska Dispatch that she more likely died of respiratory failure.

Flu season is now ramping up. Multiple patients from the Y-K Delta have been sent to Anchorage with serious flu-like symptoms. Lori Chikoyak is the Infection Preventionist at YKHC.

“It is beginning to hit us a lot harder than it was a couple weeks ago,” said Chikoyak.”We’re seeing more people in the last two weeks with flu-like symptoms. Things like a fever, cough, sore throat, running nose, body chills, tiredness, that kind of thing.”

Chikoyak says H1N1 is what’s called an A strain and can be very serious.

“They cause more of the population to become more severely ill. This H1N1 strain is a type A strain. It was a new strain in 2009, it has definitely continued to circulate, it definitely makes people get very sick,” said Chikoyak.

Michael Cooper is the Infectious Disease Program Manager with the state. He says it’s too early to tell if H1N1 will be the dominant strain, but it’s off to a very fast start. He says 11 of 13 cases in the state have been H1N1 along with 80 percent of tests in the lower 48.

“It’s definitely going to be circulating, whether it remains the predominant strain or not remains to be determined, but the good news is that it was chosen as one of the three strains to be included in the vaccine,” said Cooper.

The state and local health official are encouraging the flu shot.

Donna Bach is Public Relations Director for YKHC. She says health aides have been working hard in outlying communities to be ready for flu shots.

“We’ve been sending out flu vaccine and it its readily available in all our village health clinics, so please call you local village clinic to inquire or get the vaccine,” said Bach.

The shots are just one part of keeping the flu in check. Hand hygiene is critical. People should cover their cough, stay home when they’re sick, and avoid other people.

There are opportunities in Bethel to get free flu shots at the health fair at the cultural center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Plus there will be a mass dispensing at the Bethel Armory on December 7th.

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