ST. PETERSBURG — A 36-year-old man stricken with swine flu has become the first confirmed fatality from the virus in Pinellas County.
Officials at the Pinellas Health Department, which learned of the death on Monday, said the victim had an underlying medical condition. He died within the last four days, said Andrea Dopico, an epidemiologist there.
"This influenza is here in our community and spreading," she said, which makes it more likely "that we will see deaths and complications because of the wide distribution.
"There's no indication that this virus is any more severe than the seasonal flu, but we do want people to be prepared," she added.
Hillsborough's Health Department has confirmed four deaths related to swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. The three Hillsborough men and one woman had prior medical conditions, which put them at greater risk for complications, officials said.
Florida counted 41 deaths attributed to swine flu as of Wednesday, when the figure was last updated.
Across the nation, public health experts are bracing for further spread as children head back to school. On Friday, the federal government issued new guidance aimed at containing outbreaks while avoiding keeping kids out of school any longer than necessary.
Pinellas families should pay close attention to information distributed by schools, said Dopico of the Health Department. She urged parents to have a backup plan, should they or their children develop flu symptoms.
"Hand washing is very important," Dopico said, also recommending preventive measures as "keeping away from sick individuals and getting the vaccine when it becomes available."
A vaccine for swine flu is expected in the fall. School-age children, pregnant women and adults with chronic health disorders rank at the top of the priority list to receive it.
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit tampabay.com/health.