Delaware is reporting its first flu-related death of the year following a spike in influenza cases in the state.
The 88-year-old man from New Castle County, who also had underlying health conditions, died on Monday, according to the state’s Division of Public Health.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family at this difficult time for them,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director.
“This is an important reminder of how serious the flu can be, particularly among vulnerable populations like the very young, people with underlying conditions and seniors.”
This year alone in Delaware there have been 828 lab-confirmed cases—compared to the 2014-2015 flu season, which faced a total of 2,390 cases.
The state also is seeing flu spikes on a weekly basis—last week there were 411 flu cases, up from 197 the previous week.
Earlier this month, the Department of Corrections also reported 41 cases at its Howard R. Young correctional facility in Wilmington, and shut down its activities for several days.
Flu related deaths have been on the decline, however. There were a total 28 flu-related deaths last year.
Even though spring is around the corner the flu season is not over—and although flu always is unpredictable, this year’s flu season is rare, Rattay said.
“This year is a different flu year compared to last year. We’re seeing greater flu activity,” she said. “We began to see the peak of influenza two to three weeks ago. Often we see the peak in January and February, and last year it was in December.”
Not only the flu, but other infectious diseases like the stomach bug are also spreading, Rattay said.
She said if a person has a fever over 101 he or she should stay home to avoid spread of the virus.
Rattay suggests individuals wash their hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer. Rattay also says people should cough into their elbow or a tissue—coughing into the hand can spread the virus when touching items like doorknobs. In addition, she recommends people avoid shaking hands.
Public Health officials also recommend people 6 months of age and older who have not been vaccinated to get a flu shot as soon as possible.
Rattay said it’s difficult to know if flu cases will decrease or continue to increase over the next couple of weeks.
“Often we see elevated levels for about four or six weeks, so we’re not out of the woods yet, for sure,” she said. “It’s a little hard to tell where we are but it is important to take precautions, and for those who haven’t had their flu vaccine it’s still available and can provide protection.”
DPH offers vaccines at four of its State Services Centers. Information can be found at dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/fluclinics.html. Vaccines also are available through medical providers, pharmacies and some grocery stores.
For more information on influenza prevention, diagnosis and treatment, call the Division of Public Health at 888-282-8672 or visit flu.delaware.gov.