Ohio county sees 4 flu deaths, 3 others nearby

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- The number of flu deaths in northwestern Ohio's Lucas County is on pace to surpass such deaths over the past five years.

Four Lucas County residents and three people in neighboring counties have died from the flu in recent weeks, with months still to go in this year's flu season.

In the past two years, there were no confirmed flu deaths in Lucas County, and just one in the 2010-2011 season. In the 2009-2010 season -- the year of the H1N1 pandemic that caused worldwide panic -- there were four deaths.

The H1N1 strain, also known as swine flu, has re-emerged this year, causing concern among health officials, reports the Blade of Toledo reports (http://bit.ly/1eWHwZ1).

"This year what is concerning is the unusual number of young, previously healthy adults getting sick, needing to be put on life support, and dying from H1N1," said Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Lucas County residents who have died in area hospitals include 61-year-old Patricia Marshall, on Dec. 31; 62-year-old Connie Bucklew, on Jan. 7; 60-year-old Randy Bugg, on Jan. 13, and an unidentified 70-year-old resident who died Jan. 10.

Health officials confirmed that two southeastern Michigan residents died from the H1N1 strain of the virus, a 50-year-old man who died Dec. 28 and a 41-year-old father of five from Monroe who died Jan. 12. A seventh unidentified victim, a man in his mid-50s, died last week in Lenawee County, also in Michigan just across the Ohio state line.

"I think we are probably seeing a little higher than normal, and we are having a more serious flu season, but it is not an epidemic," said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner.

He said that after the 2009 pandemic, the H1N1 virus became one of the strains used in the flu vaccine, which helped contain it but didn't make it go away.

The reason it's now resurfacing as a major issue is that health officials haven't met the vaccination threshold needed to keep the virus from spreading through the population, Grossman said.

"There are about 20 percent of people who are going to get the flu shot each year out of habit, and another 20 percent will not get it no matter what the circumstances. That leaves about 60 percent of the population who are on the fence each season that the medical community has to convince to get the shot," Davis said.

According to the local health department in Toledo, 74 hospitalized flu cases have been confirmed so far this season, which is already far more hospitalizations confirmed for the entire flu season last year or in other recent past years.

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Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/