Alameda County public health officials announced the county’s second swine flu death Thursday. A middle-aged man who had been hospitalized for pre-existing health conditions died two days after the first death was reported.
The county received confirmation of the second death June 10.
The county’s first death also involved a middle-aged man, who was also suffering from prior chronic illness.
Both men have local family and did not have any recent travel history to Mexico, Willis said.
The Alameda County Public Health Office did not release any other information about the patients, citing state Department of Health Guidelines.
“The families have indicated they want privacy and the state department has been very clear about protecting their privacy,” Willis said.
The World Health Organization raised the H1N1 alert to Phase 6—pandemic level—Thursday, the first flu pandemic in 41 years.
The decision was based on how easily the new virus is spreading from person to person across the world.
At this point, WHO considers the “the overall severity of the influenza pandemic to be moderate,” according to its website, explaining that “this assessment is based on scientific evidence available to WHO, as well as input from its member states on the pandemic’s impact on their health systems, and their social and economic functioning.”
As of June 11, WHO reported that nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries, including 144 deaths. Alameda County health officials said that to date, the county has 49 confirmed and 10 probable H1N1 cases. Berkeley has five swine flu cases so far—four confirmed and one suspected—but that number may change at any moment depending on new lab results, according to Berkeley’s acting health officer Dr. Janet Berreman.
A statement from the Alameda County Public Health Department says that “phase 6 does not address the severity of illness, or suggest that the disease is more deadly; it does call for global implementation of strategies to reduce the spread of disease and H1N1’s potential impact on society.”
The county is continuing to work with health care providers, laboratories, schools, daycare facilities, and employers, among others to educate the public about the virus.
Dr. Tomás Aragón, executive director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Emergency Readiness at UC Berkeley, said that WHO’s announcement did not come as a surprise.
“We in public health already knew it was a pandemic, because it has spread around the world,” he said. “It’s just an official’s declaration of something everybody already sees as obvious. It doesn’t change anything we are going to be doing in the U.S. It’s been here for a while. It really will affect those countries that haven’t seen an outbreak yet more.”
Aragón said that compared to the flu pandemic of 1918, today public health officials were better equipped to fight the virus.
“We can now test people and monitor the course the epidemic is going, and we have more treatment options and facilities to deal with outbreaks,” he said.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, who heads the university’s Division of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health, said that there was always concern about the possibility of influenza viruses exchanging genetic information with other viruses, “especially ones that may be resistant to the drugs available: “It remains to be seen, however, if that will happen here.”
Dr. Lee W. Riley, professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the School of Public Health, said that people should continue to take the measures recommended to prevent the flu from spreading, especially the frequent washing of hands.
“I would keep on top of what the local health departments are recommending, since they will have the best knowledge of what is happening in your immediate area,” he said.
Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, said in a speech Thursday morning that “no previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning.”
“The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic,” Chan said. “We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch ... The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness.”
The virus, Chan said, preferentially infected younger people, with the majority of cases occurring in people under the age of 25. Most severe and fatal cases were reported in adults between the ages of 30 and 50, she said.
“This pattern is significantly different from that seen during epidemics of seasonal influenza, when most deaths occur in frail elderly people,” she said. “Many, though not all, severe cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. Based on limited, preliminary data, conditions most frequently seen include respiratory diseases, notably asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and obesity.”
Chan stressed that, at the same time, about one-third to half of the severe and fatal infections were occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people.