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Three deaths in Sarasota and Polk counties in two days show the swine flu virus isn't fading away

In counties skirting the Tampa Bay area, three people have died in two days from the swine flu, providing a reminder that the virus hasn't gone away.

In fact, although attention has faded since it first emerged in April, the number of cases — and deaths — continues to climb.

In Florida, more than 2,100 people have been stricken with the virus and 16 have died from it, including two men from Sarasota County and one man from Polk County this week.

Nationally, there have been more than 40,000 reported cases and 263 deaths.

Around the world, the last report was 95,000 cases and 429 deaths. But the virus has been spreading so quickly and widely — particularly in the Southern Hemisphere — that the World Health Organization announced Thursday that it would stop counting individual cases.

"Reported cases are really just the tip of the iceberg. We know we're not tracking every single one of them," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who estimated that there have been at least 1 million cases nationally.

Perhaps of greater concern is the fact that at least a dozen states — including Virginia, New Jersey and New York — are reporting widespread swine flu activity during the summer months, traditionally a slower time for the flu.

Florida isn't among them. But the state's 16 deaths from swine flu have all come in the past month.

On Friday, Polk County health officials reported the death of a 31-year-old man from swine flu. The man, who died Thursday night at a local hospital, had an underlying health condition that may have contributed to his death, said Health Department spokeswoman Suleima Salgado. She would not identify the underlying health condition.

On Thursday and Friday, Sarasota County health officials reported the deaths of a 22-year-old man and 47-year-old man from swine flu. Neither had underlying health conditions, said Diane Shipley, a Health Department spokeswoman.

"These deaths are tragic and a sobering reminder that influenza is serious and can be fatal," said Dr. William Heymann, medical executive director for the Sarasota County Health Department. "Our staff continues to monitor this disease in our community, and reminds residents to take precautions to avoid the flu."

No deaths have been reported in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco or Hernando counties.

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu. They include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, according to the CDC. Many people who have been infected also have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

Swine flu can result in severe illness, such as pneumonia and respiratory failure. Swine flu also may cause a worsening of an underlying chronic medical condition. About three-fourths of swine flu deaths nationally have involved people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease, according to the CDC.

.Fast facts

What you can do

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and further spreading the virus.

For more information, visit tampabay.com/swine-flu.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Three deaths in Sarasota and Polk counties in two days show the swine flu virus isn't fading away 07/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 9:47pm]

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