5 die of swine flu in Snohomish County

Five more people have died of swine flu in Snohomish County in just the past several weeks, a sudden jump in deaths from a disease that health officials say is anything but benign.

All the deaths were announced by the Snohomish Health District late Wednesday evening.

The public health agency received test results over the past several days that confirmed the patients died from swine flu, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, the county’s health officer.

“We were receiving word that there were several (test results) pending,” Goldbaum said. “We wanted to get all the information rather than announcing one after another after another.”

These are the first confirmed deaths from the virus since two men died in the spring, raising the total number of swine flu deaths in the county to seven.

The recent deaths include a 5-month-old boy from Tulalip, first suspected of having died from the virus last month.

The other deaths involved a Snohomish man in his 50s who died on Nov. 20; a Marysville man in his 50s who died on Nov. 24; a Bothell woman in her 60s who died on Nov. 24; and an Everett woman in her 20s who died on Dec. 2.

All but one had some underlying health condition, such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems, which increases the chances of people dying from swine flu.

The cluster of deaths follows a steep increase in swine flu cases both locally and nationally in October, swamping emergency rooms and causing high rates of absenteeism in schools.

Hospitalizations and deaths tend to continue even after the peak in number of new influenza cases has begun to wane, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People can be sick in the hospital for quite some time,” Goldbaum said, noting one of the patients was first hospitalized Oct. 28.

Goldbaum said he does not know of any other pending tests on deaths that might be linked to swine flu.

Although all five deaths came within a few weeks, it doesn’t mean that swine flu has become more deadly or that it is hitting Snohomish County harder, he said.

Based on the number of people living in the county, about 700,000 people, “we could have expected there would be a number of deaths,” Goldbaum said.

“It’s a reminder to us that this is not a benign disease. We need to take precautions. That would be my key message.”

Two men from Snohomish County died earlier this year from complications of swine flu. One was a 39-year-old man from Lynnwood, who died in May, and the other, in his 50s, was from Snohomish, who died in June. Both died of viral pneumonia after the swine flu weakened their immune systems.

Over the past eight weeks, about 100,000 doses of swine flu vaccine have been delivered to Snohomish County. Another 75,000 doses are expected to arrive within the next three weeks, Goldbaum said.

However, those doses will be restricted to those groups at highest risk of severe health complications from swine flu, including pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services workers, people 6 months through 24 years; and adults 25 through 64 years of age with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.

The vaccine is not yet available to seniors because swine flu, unlike seasonal flu, can hit younger people, those under 65, harder.

There’s no date for when the vaccine will be offered more broadly to anyone who wants it, Goldbaum said. That decision depends on just how much vaccine is delivered in the county and when it arrives.

Public health officials continue to urge people to take other steps to help stop the spread of the virus, including frequent hand washings, covering your cough and staying home when you’re sick.

Sharon Salyer:425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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