Stanislaus County records its second swine flu death

The swine flu has claimed the life of a second victim in Stanislaus County and is putting more people, from young adults to pregnant women, in hospitals, officials said Tuesday.

A 37-year-old man, whose name was not released, died from H1N1 influenza at a local hospital Monday. He became ill with flu symptoms days before he was hospitalized July 25, said Dr. John Walker, public health officer for Stanislaus County.

No other details about the patient were released.

"We would like to convey our deepest sympathy to the family of this patient," Walker said. "This death reminds us that the H1N1 virus is widespread and among us. Although this should not be cause for alarm, everyone should remain vigilant in helping to prevent the spread of H1N1."

The county's first reported death from H1N1 was a 21-year-old Ceres woman who died July 1. As of last week, the pandemic had resulted in 892 people hospitalized and 92 deaths in California. The state had reported one death in San Joaquin County and none in Merced County.

Walker said Stanislaus County is undergoing a significant outbreak of H1N1 influenza, putting 35 people in the hospital since the county's first case in June.

The median age of hospitalized patients is 30, following a pattern that H1N1 tends to hit harder among younger people than the elderly. Some of those hospitalized have been pregnant women.

"We are struck by how few cases there are in seniors," Walker said.

The vast majority of people infected have mild to moderate illness and recover in a few days. Pregnant women, obese people and people with chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill, health experts say.

Swine flu is spreading as thousands of children prepare to return to school. Walker has a meeting Thursday with the Stanislaus County Office of Education to discuss guidelines for responding to outbreaks at schools.

In contrast to when the first cases surfaced in the United States in April, leading health agencies no longer recommend school closures when cases are discovered.

Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations, such as putting flu-stricken students in isolated rooms and having them wear masks until they are sent home, and making sure students stay home if they're sick.

Schools could take other measures, such as moving desks farther apart in classrooms or not holding assemblies -- and if things get worse -- could screen students and staff for fever when they arrive on campus in the morning, the CDC suggested.

Walker said he will consider guidance from the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, as well as input from schools, before giving direction to schools later this week. Officials are concerned about parents overreacting and taking their children out of schools for no reason.

Dr. Robert Altman, chief of obstetrics for Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, said pregnant women should be concerned. Several cases of serious illness and death have occurred among expectant mothers nationwide, and Altman was aware of pregnant women who have been hospitalized in Stanislaus County.

To avoid exposure to the virus, he advised pregnant women to frequently wash their hands, avoid contact with people who are clearly ill and have someone else care for a child with flu symptoms.

"If they have been exposed to someone who has swine flu, they can be started on an antiviral such as Tamiflu, which is safe during pregnancy," he said. Pregnant women will be advised to get a swine flu shot; a vaccine could be available in September or October.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlsoncan be reached atkcarlson@modbee.comor 578-2321.

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