CONCORD — State health officials have announced the first flu-related death in the state this season.
Influenza-related deaths in New Hampshire are tracked by monitoring electronic death certificate filings, which are not always immediate, so it is unclear when the person died. The bureau described the victim as an adult from Rockingham County in its most recent weekly report, which includes data as of Jan. 4.
Influenza, commonly referred to as ‘flu,’ is a viral infection spread by respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Flu activity is considered widespread in New Hampshire and 45 other states, health officials said.
“Unfortunately, it’s common to see flu-related deaths,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. “I believe we’ve had between 45-65 deaths related to influenza the last few years.”
He added it’s not unusual for the first flu-related death to be reported in the first week of January.
In all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 9.7 million people across the United States have been infected with the flu this year, with about 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths.
So far this season, 27 U.S. children have died from the flu, according to the CDC, the highest number of pediatric flu deaths reported at this point in the flu season since 2003, when the CDC started tracking child flu deaths.
No pediatric flu-related deaths have been reported in New Hampshire, state health officials said.
For the week ending Jan. 4, 77 schools reported students absent due to influenza-like symptoms, but only at minimal levels.
Chan said it’s not too late to get a flu shot. “The influenza vaccine is still the first and the best line of defense,” he said.
Other simple precautions can go along way toward preventing spread of the flu virus, Chan said. That includes covering coughs and sneezes, and frequently washing your hands.
Someone who experiences flu-like illness, especially a fever, should stay home from work or school, he said, “until the fever has gone away and people are feeling better, because of how easily flu and other viruses can be spread in work and school settings.”
And if you do get sick, he said, you should contact your medical provider, because there is treatment available that could limit the duration and severity of illness.
“This is particularly important for people that are at higher risk for complications of the flu,” including those with chronic medical conditions such as lung or heart disease, or immune system disorders, he said.
Last year’s flu season was a bad one, Chan said, but “it’s too soon to say” whether this will be as well.