By CAMERON RASMUSSON
SANDPOINT — Health officials are warning local residents to stay vigilant during the flu season following the death of a Bonner County man.
Over the weekend, the man, whose name was not released, passed away from complications related to his flu symptoms. The death is the first flu-related fatality to be reported this winter season in the five northern Idaho counties and is almost certainly the result of the H1N1 virus that caused the 2009 flu pandemic, Panhandle Health District public information officer Cynthia Taggart said.
While the man, who was in his 50s, had ongoing health issues, Taggart said the death is more than enough cause to exhibit due caution as the flu season progresses.
“We don’t want to shock anyone or scare anyone, but we do want people to take the flu seriously,” she said.
The Bonner County man isn’t the only flu-related death in the greater region. A woman in her 40s passed away this week from flu complications in Washington, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. The incident marks the fourth flu-related death in Eastern Washington this season.
Although many people regard the flu as an inconvenient but otherwise unnoteworthy disease, Taggart said the condition is no laughing matter. A large percentage of the public ranks among the most at risk for developing flu complications, including young children, seniors, pregnant or postpartum women, people with chronic medical conditions, anyone younger than 19 on long-term aspirin therapy, the morbidly obese, American Indians or Alaskan Natives and residents of nursing homes or chronic care facilities.
“It seems like there are more people at risk than those that aren’t,” Taggart said.
Despite the death, Taggart said PHD officials haven’t noted an especially severe flu outbreak based on doctor, lab and school absentee reports, but it’s still early in the season. The most recent data shows school absences are within normal ranges, while positive results for flu tests — all of which are showing the H1N1 virus as the culprit — rest at 14 percent, Taggart said. However, requests for flu tests are on the rise, she added.