N.D. confirms first H1N1 death

An older man from northwestern North Dakota is the state's first confirmed death due to the H1N1 influenza virus, state health officials announced Monday.

An older man from northwestern North Dakota is the state's first confirmed death due to the H1N1 influenza virus, state health officials announced Monday.

The unidentified man was older than 60 and had underlying health conditions that made him more vulnerable to the disease, the officials said.

"This should remind us that influenza, whether seasonal or H1N1, can be a serious illness," Dr. Terry Dwelle, state health officer, said in a telephone conference call.

"Flu is very widespread in North Dakota," added Kirby Kruger, the state epidemiologist, with 1,216 cases reported to the state Health Department since Oct. 1. State officials estimated that 1,100 of those were H1N1.

The number of reported cases last week was double that of the week before, they said.


Most of the reported cases have involved mild to moderate symptoms and continue to target especially the young. Of the 1,216 reported cases, 428 were children younger than 10 and 459 were ages 10-19. Forty-one cases required hospitalization.

The vague description of the state's first H1N1 fatality is meant to protect the victim's privacy, Dwelle said. The man had not been vaccinated for H1N1.

"He had a very rapid course of illness," Dwelle said.

"Our condolences go out to the family and other loved ones," he said.

Kruger said that about 92 percent of the flu cases reported to the state are H1N1.

"The fact that vaccine has been slow to arrive in the state has been a very frustrating experience to ourselves, the public and providers," Kruger said.

H1N1 vaccine "is continuing to come into the state on a weekly basis," he said, "and we anticipate that by the end of the vaccination campaign, all who want to be vaccinated will be able to get it."

But the delays mean "it is going to take several weeks for enough to get into North Dakota before we open up vaccinations" for high-priority groups, including health care workers, pregnant women, children younger than 5 -- especially children between 6 months and 2 years -- and people with underlying conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and other chronic diseases.


"We are asking people to be patient," Dwelle said, "and to be diligent" in following oft-repeated advice intended to limit the spread of the disease, such as regular hand-washing, covering coughs and staying home if sick.

"We all must do the part we can to help curb the spread," he said. "These steps, though simple, are extremely important."

More this week

The state expects another allocation of H1N1 vaccine late this week from federal sources, about 21,000 doses, and those will be distributed next week through local agencies to priority groups.

"Clinics are going to find themselves needing to prioritize even within these groups," Kruger said.

The health department offers a toll-free hot line for people with questions, but Dwelle cautioned that people staffing the hot line "can't provide medical advice," which should come from a health care provider.

The state's hot line is (866) 207-2880.

Kruger said the disease "spreads quickly," and "one individual can infect three or four others, including in the 24-hour period before symptoms appear.


"We were hoping not to see these significant increases this quickly," he said. H1N1 flu "is being transmitted efficiently in our communities, so those personal precautions like hand-washing are so important."

Those steps can slow the spread of the disease, he emphasized, but "the main way we're going to decrease the numbers is by vaccination."

In response to a question, Kruger said that people who have been diagnosed with H1N1 still should get vaccinated. Most of the reports of H1N1 diagnoses coming to the state are based on tentative tests, "so it's hard to know for sure whether or not it was H1N1," he said.

Vaccine for seasonal flu does not protect against H1N1, he said, and the H1N1 vaccine, when available, will not protect against the seasonal flu.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to .

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