Health Division reports first flu death in Oakland County

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published November 18, 2019

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Oakland County Health Division has reported the first flu-associated death in the county after a 69-year-old man passed away Nov. 7.

Oakland County Medical Director Russell Faust said the man had not been vaccinated with the flu vaccine this year, and he struggled with other comorbidities — lung disease and kidney disease — which put him at greater risk. He was infected with Influenza B, Faust said.

Comorbidities are the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic conditions in a person.

“This gentleman was basically a perfect example of those who are most vulnerable,” he said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommend that people who are in greatest risk get vaccinated every year.”

The list of people who may be at greater risk of potentially severe or fatal flu symptoms includes adults 65 and older; anyone with asthma or diabetes; anyone with a history of heart disease or stroke; pregnant women; anyone taking immunosuppressant medication or with an autoimmune disorder; anyone with a history of cancer or chemotherapy treatment; anyone with HIV or AIDS; and children younger than age 5 — especially those younger than 2 years old.

Faust said that, on the same day the Health Division received notice of the man being hospitalized in poor condition, the division received another report of a woman who was hospitalized for flu symptoms who was “personally identical in terms of age range and comorbidities.”

In addition, the woman also had diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. However, she had also received a flu vaccine this year. She was infected with the Influenza A, Faust said.

Both the man and woman were put on ventilators during their stay at the hospital. The day after the man died, the woman was taken off her ventilator and started to recover.

“The day after (the man) died, she was removed from the ventilator and did very well. She’s still in bad condition, but she’s turned the corner. She’s headed in the right direction,” Faust said. “It would be a little overly simplistic to say the vaccine saved her life, but the fact is, even those folks who get the flu, if they’ve been vaccinated it’s a much milder ailment. Vaccination is the most effective protection against the flu. It’s that simple.”

The Oakland County Health Division has seen fewer reported flu cases this year, since the start of the flu season Oct. 1, than they have in years past. The county has seen 17 reported cases of the flu so far.

Faust said it’s certainly unusual for the county to see a flu-associated death this early into the season.

“I think the message from this is clear. Protect yourself and those you love. Get vaccinated. Get the flu shot, especially if you happen to be in one of those more vulnerable groups of people,” he said.

Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease doctor at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, said people who have received the vaccine can still get the flu because the vaccine doesn’t work for everybody. He noted that the vaccine was only 48% effective last year, which is why he recommends taking the necessary steps to protect yourself beyond the vaccine.

During flu season especially, but for all diseases, he recommends washing your hands routinely; keeping your hands away from your eyes and mouth, especially after touching shared objects, where the virus can live for several hours; carrying around Kleenex; and always covering your cough or sneeze.

The flu can become active in a person’s system before they start to notice it, and it can stay active beyond when they feel better, so Fishbain also recommends that people recovering from the flu avoid contact with others as much as they can for a period of time, even after they feel healthy. If a person begins to feel sick again after a few days, they should immediately seek medical assistance, as they might be at risk of potentially fatal complications.

Flu symptoms can include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, sinus blockage, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea — the latter of which are more common in children than adults.

Flu vaccinations are available through the Oakland County Health Division, as well as primary care physicians and select pharmacies. Visit oakgov.com/health for more information.

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