Friday, June 12, 2009 | 5:35 p.m.
The Southern Nevada Health District today announced the first H1N1 influenza-related death in Clark County.
The patient was a 70-year-old woman who was a New York resident, health officials said.
Her illness was identified shortly after she arrived in Las Vegas and she was hospitalized with the illness. She had underlying medical conditions that caused a more severe form of the novel flu, also called swine flu, officials said.
The health district will not release additional details about this case because of medical privacy laws.
To date, there have been 52 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in Clark County, most of them mild illnesses.
A recent outbreak at Marion Earl Elementary School had four confirmed cases of the new flu which combines swine, avian and human influenza viruses. As a precaution, many parents kept their children home from the school in western Las Vegas Valley, which recorded 365 absences on Friday.
"It is sobering that a patient has died from this influenza strain and it serves as a reminder that we anticipate cases with severe illness and hospitalizations in our community as with other strains of flu," said Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District.
"Unfortunately there is a possibility we may see more deaths as we do each flu season," Sands said.
"We have been fortunate that most patients locally have had mild illnesses, although there have been hospitalizations," Sands said.
Most people infected with the novel flu strain or other influenza viruses do not seek medical attention and recover on their own, Sands said.
This particular flu strain has spread to 74 countries, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic on Thursday.
Between 2005 until January 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were detected in the United States with no deaths occurring. The name "swine flu" refers to the origin of some of the pieces of the virus making up the current novel strain, health officials said.
The new flu spreads easily from one person to another, striking younger people under 25 years old. Pregnant women and anyone with underlying illnesses are more susceptible to a more serious form of this flu, health officials said.
Covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and thorough hand washing are the best ways to prevent catching this virus, health officials said.
Clark County School District officials urge parents to keep their children at home if they have symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting and diarrhea.
More information is available on the Southern Nevada Health District Web site or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.