18 Montanans Have Died of Swine Flu

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Eighteen Montana residents have died from complications related to swine flu, and nearly all were adults with pre-existing medical conditions, state health officials said.

The death rate for H1N1 infection is higher among American Indians than Caucasians, the Department of Public Health and Human Services reported this week. In Montana, five American Indians have died, for a death rate of 7.6 per 100,000, compared with 1.5 per 100,000 for Caucasians.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used data from 12 states, not including Montana, and found the swine flu death rate for American Indians is four times higher than that for non-Indians in those states at 3.7 per 100,000, compared with 0.9 per 100,000.

The swine flu vaccine is more widely available now, so clinics in several counties are making it available to anyone. Early doses were restricted only to those at high risk, such as pregnant women and people with chronic health issues.

DPHHS Director Anna Whiting Sorrell said many of the deaths occurred before enough H1N1 vaccine was available.

“However, now the H1N1 vaccine supply has recently increased to the point that more of these high risk–persons can be vaccinated,” she said.

Persons at high risk include pregnant women and people with chronic health problems, such as asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Health departments in Missoula, Yellowstone, Butte-Silver Bow, Flathead and Ravalli counties have announced they will make the vaccine available to anyone.

People may receive both the swine flu shot and the seasonal flu shot on the same day, said Flathead County Health Officer Joe Russell.

“This is an ideal time to be vaccinated for protection against influenza during the holidays, as it takes up to two weeks before influenza immunizations are fully effective.”