The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) announced the state's second death as a result of the H1N1 flu, otherwise known as swine flu, Sept. 17.
"The 24-year-old (Independence) woman died Wednesday night (Sept. 16), several days after she was hospitalized with flu symptoms," said MDHSS. "A private laboratory confirmed that the woman was positive for the H1N1 virus, which is commonly referred to as swine flu."
"Our hearts go out to this woman's family and friends," Margaret Donnelly, director of MDHSS, said. "This is further evidence that, while most people experience only mild symptoms from the H1N1 virus, this flu is dangerous and can even be deadly."
The first Missouri death from the H1N1 flu occurred in May when a 44-year-old St. Louis County man became ill after a trip to Mexico where the virus was first discovered.
According to MDHSS, "Donnelly said the serious nature of the woman's illness underscored the need for people to take basic steps to limit the spread of the flu and to get vaccinated when the H1N1 vaccine becomes available in mid-October."
"The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer people there are to catch the virus and the fewer there are spreading the flu to other," Donnelly said. "Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to protect yourself, your family and your community."
Missouri usually receives about 15,000 typical seasonal flu cases a year. According to MDHSS, "Flu season usually runs from early October through late May. But the new H1N1 virus, which emerged in the United States in April, continued to cause illness throughout the summer. Several outbreaks have occurred at Missouri schools and universities and caused a small school in Saline County to close for two days."
Since the virus first emerged in April, Missouri has reported about 400 confirmed cases in the state. However, MDHSS reports that health officials believe that the actual number of flu cases could be much higher because there are many people who recover without treatment and without being tested for H1N1.
The United States has confirmed about 44,000 cases since the virus appeared and about 600 deaths due to H1N1.
Donnelly said the best way for people to protect themselves is to receive both a seasonal flu vaccine and a H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.
"With the new H1N1 flu virus already circulating throughout the nation and the seasonal flu virus expected to emerge later this fall, people need to be prepared," Donnelly said. "Getting your flu shots this fall is an important first step."
The Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development is one of eight sites funded by the National Institutes of Health. The university has been testing the safety and effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine in both healthy children and adults to determine the best dosage and most effective method to boost the patients' immune systems.
"An unusual aspect of the vaccine against the H1N1 flu is that it was expected to require people to get two shots," according to MDHSS. "Saint Louis University researchers are testing whether shots 21 days apart provide the most protection against the virus. Recent testing has shown, however, that the H1N1 vaccine may be effective for healthy adults after only one shot."
Those who are overseeing the tests seem optimistic.
"These studies are critical to understanding how the vaccines can be used to prevent the new pandemic virus from causing influenza," Dr. Sharon Frey, clinical director of SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, said. "The vaccines look safe and they are well tolerated. Antibodies are developing in adults after just one shot."
"We have been able to develop data to guide public health recommendations for using the vaccine to reduce the impact of the current epidemic," Dr. Robert Belshe, director of SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, said.
About 878,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine are scheduled for the first shipment to Missouri in mid-October. "More doses will follow as drug makers ramp up production," says MDHSS.
Those who are high-risk, or more likely to contract the disease, will be the first priority in getting the vaccine. The high-risk categories are pregnant women, children and young adults. "Studies indicate that older persons appear to be at less risk for H1N1 flu, apparently because of some degree of pre-existing immunity," says MDHSS.
"We expect to have adequate supplies of vaccine available statewide for the high-risk groups next month," Donnelly said. "Steady additional shipments of the vaccine should eventually allow us to provide shots to everyone who wants them."
According to Shelia Russell of the Oregon County Health Department, seasonal flu clinics will be at Thayer's Fun and Friend's Senior Center and Alton's Senior Center Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. "Any doses left from those clinics will be distributed at our offices," Russell said.
She said there are no reported shortages of the seasonal flu vaccine this year.
"They're still projecting when we'll get the initial doses (of the H1N1 vaccine)," Russell said. She said it may be mid- to late October.
"Everyone will get the vaccine," Russell said.
"There are no confirmed cases of H1N1 in Oregon County," Russell said.
"If you have a fever, stay home," is the advise Russell offered to avoid spreading the flu or other air-borne diseases to others.