An Iowan has died of the H1N1 flu, the first death in the state connected to this new strain of the flu. Dr. Patricia Quinklisk, the state epidemiologist, says it is rare to have outbreaks of the flu in the summertime.
“This is a little bit unusual in that this virus has stayed around and has been occurring at a high enough level that we’re seeing it come up on our influenza surveillance system,” she says, “which is not typical of our seasonal flu but can happen.”
State officials have stopped asking that everyone who has flu-like symptoms be tested to find out if they have the H1N1 virus. Instead, the health department is calling for testing people who have been admitted to the hospital because their symptoms are so severe, as well as those who are at high risk of having complications from the flu.
“Right now we do believe that anyone at any place in Iowa would be at some, though probably very low risk of being exposed to H1N1,” Quinlisk says. “As our flu season starts….usually it’s November or December, but this year it might be a little earlier (as) people are predicting H1N1 might come back a little bit earlier, we do expect both seasonal flu to increase from the number of people who get sick from it as well as H1N1.”
Quinlisk says that means it will be important for people to get flu shots this fall and to stay home when they’re ill.
“There may actually be four different flu viruses spreading around this fall,” Quinlisk says.
State public health officials aren’t releasing the name of the person who recently died of H1N1, nor are they saying when or where the death occurred. Quinlisk says her department is prohibited, by law, from giving out information that would allow the public to easily identify the person who died.
“The last thing in the world we want is a person to be identified and the grieving family then to be asked questions or be identified or have people show up at the funeral,” she says, “which unfortunately has happened in the past when somebody who has died of a specific disease was identified.”
Quinlisk serves as both the state epidemiologist and the medical director for the Department of Public Health. She’s also been an editor of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.