Alaska Records First Swine Flu-Related Fatality

A Fairbanks woman with underlying medical conditions has died of complications of swine flu in Washington state — the first swine-flu related fatality of an Alaskan, state health officials said Monday.

The Department of Health and Social Services said the woman was in her 40s and died on July 16 died in a Washington state hospital. The woman had existing heart and lung conditions, agency spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

It was not known where the woman, who developed symptoms on July 10, was exposed to the virus. The woman's name was not being released.

While most confirmed cases of swine flu have been mild, the woman's death is a reminder of how serious influenza cases can be to people with underlying medical conditions, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said.

Meanwhile, the state is preparing for a resurgence of swine flu cases in the fall when schools reopen.

The state is working toward trying to protect those people who are most vulnerable to the effects of swine flu, including children, Wilkinson said.

Efforts are under way to make a vaccine available later this year. McLaughlin said the vaccine should be available in Alaska about mid-October. It likely will require two shots, an initial one and a follow-up three to four weeks later.

The Division of Public Health is working with state, local and tribal groups to determine the most effective way of distributing the vaccine.

The state is recommending that people get vaccinated for both strains of influenza, seasonal and swine.

"This year we are going to see quite a few more cases," McLaughlin said.

State officials also are warning hospitals and health care providers to be prepared for a surge of patients come fall. They are recommending that anyone who becomes ill should stay away from school or the workplace until they are no longer infectious.

As of last Wednesday, Alaska had 272 confirmed cases of swine flu.

Nationwide, more than 1 million people are believed to have been sickened by swine flu. There have been more than 300 fatalities.

The regular winter flu is expected to infect up to one in five Americans and to kill 36,000.