Vermont has seen its first swine flu death. Health officials have said since the beginning of the pandemic that deaths were inevitable, and today they announced their predictions came true.
Wednesday the Health Department said Vermont is seeing widespread sickness from the H1N1 flu in all parts of the state. Case numbers are still rising, and Vermont's top doctor expects the numbers to continue rising, likely followed by more deaths.
"This is a very sad marker in our experience with the H1N1 influenza," said Health Commissioner Dr. Wendy Davis.
Vermont's Health Department will not say where in the state the first swine flu death happened, exactly when it happened, or who the victim was, only saying the patient was an adult already suffering from other health problems.
"We anticipate there will be more. We really want to focus on expressing our sympathy to the family because that's what matters most in a situation like this," said Davis.
But perhaps more alarming than one death is this revelation: the Health Department, charged with protecting Vermonters from sickness, actually destroyed 800 doses of the swine flu vaccine, despite the nationwide shortage.
"This type of event, unfortunately, is not a really unusual occurrence," said Davis.
Davis explains the doses are delicate and need to be kept at a constant temperature. But a glitch in a district health office over the weekend caused a dip in refrigerator temperature, spoiling the highly-sought after immunizations. The Health Department will not say where this happened, or which clinics were cancelled because of it.
"We're absolutely taking immediate action to ensure it won't happen again," said Davis.
But the department assures Vermonters more H1N1 vaccine is on its way. We may never know, though, exactly how many people get sick.
"As we've said before, most people who get influenza can care for themselves at home, will never need medical treatment, and will never be tested for influenza," said Vermont State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso.
More school vaccination clinics are happening through the rest of the week at schools, and Dr. Davis says others that were scheduled will be back on when the new shots arrive. Of course, those 800 doses that were ruined could have helped more kids.
Dr. Davis says the Health Department is checking its equipment and considering putting people in charge of monitoring temperatures, not just machines, to prevent wasting more vaccine. But she says federal officials won't hold this mistake against Vermont in giving us more vaccine when it's available. We're still expecting 350,000 doses, on top of the 38,000 that have been given.
The Health Department said they would not report where the death happened, because it has no impact on public health or safety, and they wanted to respect the privacy of the patient.
Our region did already see another death from the disease though. Earlier this month, another person who also had previous complication died in Clinton County, New York.