First Swine Flu Death Reported in Alameda County

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday June 09, 2009 - 03:28:00 PM

Alameda County reported its first swine flu death Tuesday, a middle-aged man who tested positive for the H1N1 virus and had pre-existing chronic health conditions. 

He had been hospitalized for the flu, county health officials said. 

Sherri Willis, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Public Heath Department, said the county was not releasing any other information about the patient, except that he lived in Alameda County and had “local family members.” 

The man had no recent travel history to Mexico. 

“We are saddened to hear of this death,” Alameda County Public Health Department Director Dr. Tony Iton said in a statement. “Most H1N1 cases in Alameda County have been mild. This is a reminder to all our residents to take basic precautions.” 

To date Alameda County has 48 confirmed and 10 probable H1N1 cases. There are no current school closures or event cancellations due to H1N1. Willis said the county was asking residents to take the same precautions as first advised when news of the swine flu broke in April. 

“All schools will be happy when they close for summer on Thursday,” she said. “The dynamics of the flu has not changed. We are telling everyone to increase awareness of cold and flu-like symptoms and to stay at home if they have those symptoms. We are also asking people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.”  

Willis said the county was continuing to survey the situation and investigate those suspected of having the H1N1, including people they had been in close contact with. 

“Usually people who are testing positive for H1N1 are reporting vomiting and diarrhea in addition to flu and cold-like symptoms,” she said 

Willis said the county health department had received confirmation of the man’s death Monday, June 8. 

“He already had existing health conditions,” she said, but declined to elaborate on what they were. “We know that H1N1 was a contributing factor in his death. Whether or not it was the lead factor, only hospital staff can attest to that. Whether H1N1 will go on his death certificate, I don’t know.” 

Berkeley has so far reported a total of five swine flu cases, according to Dr. Janet Berreman, the city’s public health director. Berreman said she could not provide specifics about how many of those cases were confirmed and how many were suspected cases, or whether any of the cases were children. There have been no deaths or hospitalizations in Berkeley from swine flu, she said. 

“H1N1 is fairly widespread in the Bay Area, so I am assuming it has spread in Berkeley,” Dr. Berreman said. “Our testing targets people who are severely ill as well as those who have been hospitalized.” 

Berreman said Berkeley, which is one of the three cities in California to have its own health department, was learning about swine flu cases from lab tests and hospitals. 

Just like in the case of seasonal flu, Berreman said, people with chronic illnesses were more likely to die if they get infected with the H1N1 flu strain. 

“That’s why we are recommending people get seasonal flu shots,” she said, adding that the situation in Berkeley did not arise to the level of alarm. “When there is a vaccine available for H1H1, we will ask people to get it.” 

The city’s health department recently sent out a statement saying that most flu cases in Berkeley have been relatively mild. 

The Berkeley Unified School District worked with the city to close down Malcolm X Elementary School for two days when the parent of two students at the school was suspected of having swine flu, but reopened it under federal guidelines. Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said no swine flu cases had been reported in the Berkeley public schools so far. 

Coplan stressed the need for parents to pay attention to influenza-like illnesses in children, and not send them to school if they were sick. 

City health officers said they were “concerned about the possible return of the virus in the fall, possibly causing more severe illness.” 

As of June 4, California has 1,014 swine flu cases—796 confirmed, 218 probable—reported in 38 of 61 local health jurisdictions. 

The death in Alameda County takes the total H1N1 death toll in California to four since the outbreak began two months ago. A child in Contra Costa County died recently after being infected by H1H1.