Arkadelphia Siftings Herald - Arkadelphia, AR
  • Coroner identifies Bismarck woman as state's first swine flu victim

  • The Pulaski County coroner has released the identity of the first person who died from swine flu in the state to the Associated Press.

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  • The Pulaski County coroner has released the identity of the first person who died from swine flu in the state to the Associated Press.
    AP reported Friday that Linda Blocker, 46, of Bismarck, died Aug. 8 at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock after being tested positive for the H1N1 virus on July 31 at Baptist Health Medical Center-Arkadelphia.
    Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper gave the information. AP reported that Blocker tested positive to the virus after being exposed to a relative who was in the later stages of treatment for swine flu. Blocker was the first confirmed death in the state as a result of the virus.
    The state Health Department in late July had confirmed 131 cases of swine flu in 42 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. But department spokesman Ed Barham said in a phone interview today that health officials believe every county probably has had someone with a mild case of the illness.
    Barham would not release to the Siftings the identity of the person who died. He did, however, provide information on swine flu and what the public needs to know about the extent of the virus in Arkansas.
    “What we know is that it’s been here since May, and by this time it’s spread all over the world. It’s very contagious. There have been 350 deaths associated with H1N1 virus worldwide ... We asked weeks ago that physicians not send samples to us from people who are mildly ill.” People who are hospitalized or are severely ill are still being tested.
    Barham said swine flu is a “relatively mild” illness compared to the seasonal flu, but “we don’t know what it might do” since it is a new virus. “We are concerned that it might be more serious this fall when flu season arrives. It is very unusual for us to have this much illness and death during this time of the year. While (swine flu is) relatively mild, it can be quite serious for some people. People do need to be concerned about it and aware of it.”
    Those who should be on guard are pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions or who have weakened immune systems and health care workers.
    Symptoms of swine flu include a fever over 100 degrees, headache, cough, sore throat, body aches, fatigue and sometimes nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
    Barham said the illness is typically very mild, and those who are feeling mildly ill should take ibuprofen and drink lots of liquid. “The best thing to do,” he said, “is to wash your hands and protect yourself from other people you know with the flu. Stay away from folks who are ill.” Most people with the sickness are recovering on their own, according to Barham.
    The virus is spread through the tiny droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing, and it can also be on a surface that was coughed or sneezed on.
    Page 2 of 2 - Should local people remain calm after a virus which has received international attention has been confirmed in Clark County?
    “It’s a difficult message for people to get their heads around,” Barham said. “It is frightening because the first coverage of it was so frightening since so many people had died in Mexico. By this time we know a lot more about this virus, and for the most part it is just a mild illness. However, it has proven to be serious for high risk groups. Death can result if you are not cautious.”
    Being one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, flu kills about 36,000 people each year.
    School begins for the Arkadelphia School District Wednesday, but the Centers for Disease Control is not recommending any school be closed because of the presence of swine flu. Health officials recommend that people be aware of the virus, wash their hands frequently, cover sneezes and coughs with either a tissue or an elbow, keep surfaces clean and stay at home if they are feeling ill.
    “We are trying to contain the spread (of the virus since we are) not able to stop it,” Barham said.
    “Kids don’t need to stay home (from school) unless they’re sick. We do hope parents will monitor their kids carefully if they are sick. Make sure they are not sick before going to school. Keep them home for 24 hours after their fever is gone — without the help of any fever-reducing drug.”
    Barham said county health units throughout the state are prepared for an influx of ill people, as the state Health Department “has been working seriously since spring to prepare for seasonal flu. The legislature’s health care initiative provided $2.9 million this year from the tobacco tax to vaccinate every school child, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for every school child who wants one, beginning in mid October.”
    In partnering with the Department of Education, extra staff has been hired to vaccinate the state’s 466,000 school children this year. “Nationwide, school kids make up a fifth of our population,” Barham said, noting that the mass vaccinations will benefit everyone. In each county, flu shots will be available for anyone who wants one, beginning in late October. About 125,000 Arkansans were vaccinated in 2008 in a four-day period during the clinic. Barham said health officials are working on providing a separate vaccine for H1N1, but “most likely we will work with the priority groups as for the first people to get the shots. Those will be for the high risk groups.”
    For more information on the H1N1 virus, including other symptoms and precautions to take to avoid it, visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.
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