Public health officials are enhancing surveillance as this year’s flu seems to be hitting young adults harder than usual.
Lee County Coroner Carolyn Greene confirmed there have been at least two flu-related deaths at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo. One person was under 30, the other under 40.
The Mississippi State Department of Health can’t comment on specific cases, but the department has stepped up its surveillance efforts as the flu season has steadily picked up, said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state epidemiologist.
“We’ve had anecdotal reports of severe illness in young adults and anecdotal reports of deaths,” Dobbs said.
It appears the flu virus circulating in Mississippi is very similar to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu, Dobbs said.
“We know that virus was very hard on young adults,” he said.
The health department is still gathering information, but so far, it appears many of the young adults hit by severe flu had not been vaccinated.
“We know young healthy people don’t think they need a flu vaccine, but that’s just not true,” Dobbs said.
Based on samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus circulating in Mississippi does match up with the virus in the flu vaccine.
The strain is covered by all of the flu vaccines available this season, Dobbs said. Some vaccines cover three types of flu, others four, Dobbs said.
“It would be extremely helpful in preventing severe illness and death, if we can get more people vaccinated.”
Earlier this month, NMMC-Tupelo implemented its flu precaution plan. In addition to an increasing number of patients reporting flu-like symptoms, hospital leaders cited concerns of unusually severe cases in young adults.
NMMC-Tupelo is limiting visitors to one at a time, asking families to designate a single family visitor to limit exposure. Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is asked not to visit. Children 14 and younger are also asked not to visit.
Health officials are continuing to encourage flu vaccination, which can prevent or reduce the severity of the disease.
Each year, thousands of people die as a result of influenza and complications of influenza. The elderly, children under 2 and those with chronic health conditions are typically the most vulnerable.