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Health officials offer warning on swine flu

WESLEY CHAPEL — In what otherwise has been a mild to moderate flu season, at least two people have died from swine flu in Pasco County this year, health officials report.

The most recent case was confirmed Dec. 9, said Deanna Krautner, a spokeswoman for the Pasco County Health Department. The patient was a man, but Krautner declined to give any additional identifying information about him.

The first swine-flu case reported to health officials involved 27-year-old Holly Harrelson of Dade City, who died Nov. 4 and previously was identified in media reports, including when friends held a fundraiser for her family shortly after her death.

Krautner said health department reports about flu activity come with the caveat that medical practitioners aren’t required to report influenza cases or adult flu deaths to state health officials, so exact numbers are hard to come by. If a child dies from the flu, that must be reported.

Statewide, one child has died of flu this season, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Swine flu, or influenza A as this year’s strain is called, has been the most common type of flu reported in Florida this year, Krautner said. Influenza A is the same as the H1N1 virus that was more widespread in 2009 and led Pasco County schools to make vaccinations available to all students.

Krautner said the vaccine for influenza A is included in this year’s seasonal flu shot.

In addition to a flu shot, Krautner said other preventive steps people can take include washing hands often, keeping your hands away from your face, and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing and coughing.

Flu symptoms include headache, fever, severe cough, runny nose or body aches. Anyone who experiences any of those symptoms should see a primary-care doctor immediately, Krautner said.

Harrelson, the first Pasco resident to die after contracting swine flu this year, was ill for a few days before she sought medical help at Pasco Regional Medical Center.

On Nov. 3, the day before she died, she posted on her Facebook page that for three days she felt like she was “riding shotgun with death” after battling a fever and respiratory infection for three days.

“If by morning nothing has changed I am ER bound cause if im being completely honest....at this point...im scared,” Harrelson wrote.

Most Florida counties are reporting mild flu activity this year, according to the Florida Flu Review, the state health department’s weekly update on the subject.

There has been an increase in recent weeks in the number of people with flu or flu-like illnesses who are visiting emergency rooms or urgent-care centers, a Flu Review report said.

For the week of Dec. 8-14, Pasco was listed among nine counties that had moderate flu activity. Another 45 counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, had mild activity and 13 had no activity. No counties were dealing with a widespread outbreak, the report said.

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