H1N1 STRAIN OF VIRUS

5th victim dies of flu in Toledo area

Monroe man, 41, didn’t receive vaccination

1/14/2014
BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

EDITOR'S NOTE: This version corrects that it was a 53-year-old man who died at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center on Jan. 8.

Wright
Wright

A Monroe man is the fifth death from the flu virus in the area, and the youngest person suspected of contracting the H1N1 strain of the virus during this flu season.

Chris Wright, a 41-year-old father of five, was very healthy according to family members. He died Sunday at Oakwood Southshore Medical Center in Trenton, Mich., but had also been treated at Mercy Memorial Hospital in Monroe.

“He always said, ‘I never get sick. I’m healthy as a horse,’ ” said his wife Susan. That is why he didn’t think it was necessary to get a flu shot, she added.

EDITORIAL: Flu shot needed, not silence

The official cause of death for Mr. Wright was Influenza A but “we expect that it was probably H1N1,” said Monroe County Health Director Kim Comerzan.

Mr. Wright, who was a postal carrier in Ypsilanti, Mich., never missed a day of work and was never sick during their three-year marriage, said Mrs. Wright.

She said he started feeling sick about Dec. 31 and originally was admitted to Mercy Memorial.

WHEN TO GET A SHOT
■ Health officials urge everyone to get a flu shot.


■ The Lucas County Health Department, 635 N. Erie St., will hold two walk-in flu clinics this week: Today from 4 to 6 p.m., and Saturday, from 9 a.m.to 1 p.m. The cost of the adult flu vaccine is $30.

“They never diagnosed him with the flu. They thought he had pneumonia and two small blood clots,” said his mother, Diane Bilicic.

After three days at Mercy, he was dissatisfied with his care and asked to be released, Mrs. Wright said. On Jan. 4, he moved to Oakwood hospital where he was told he had the flu virus, she said.

Mercy Memorial hospital officials were not available to respond to family's comments.

“It’s all so shocking and gut wrenching. It was the same as him being in a car accident. It just happened so quickly and there was no time to ask questions,” said Mrs. Wright.

A wake service is being held today and Mr. Wright’s funeral service will be held Thursday.

Toledo-Lucas County Health Department officials also confirmed on Tuesday that two additional people have died from H1N1 in the Toledo area, bringing the official number of Lucas County deaths to four.

David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner, said a 61-year old Toledo woman died on New Year’s Eve and a 53-year-old man died near the end of last week.

Dr. Grossman said both people were treated by the same physician at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and the physician confirmed that the deaths were from influenza.

Health department officials had previously confirmed the deaths of two people from the H1N1 strain of the virus in Lucas County: Toledo resident Connie Bucklew, 62, who died Jan. 7 and 50-year-old James A. Crosby, of Temperance, who died Dec. 28. Both were in Toledo Hospital.

Neither Mrs. Bucklew nor Mr. Crosby had flu vaccines this year, according to family members.

“We still see increased problems from this virus and unfortunately this illness is killing people,” said Dr. Grossman.

As the leading public health official in the county, Dr. Grossman has struggled in his efforts to provide information to the public and the news media about the deaths and other information about flu activity in the area because of the way information is reported in Lucas County.

Area hospitals do not report the deaths directly to Dr. Grossman. Instead, he said he must wait days or weeks to receive the official death certificate from the physician of record before he can release information to the public.

Officials at Mercy Health Systems, ProMedica hospitals, and the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, have repeatedly refused to release any information about people who died in their hospitals from the flu virus, or to give information about the number of people who are seriously ill with flu-related symptoms in their intensive-care units.

Dr. Grossman also must rely on area hospitals to supply information about the number of patients being treated for the flu in their facilities. Hospitals have to report those numbers to him within 48 hours of the first business day. Overall he said the hospitals in Toledo are complying with that regulation.

Officials at Mercy Health Systems said in the last three weeks there have been 71 confirmed cases of the flu in its hospitals, which include St. Vincent, St. Charles, and St. Anne.

That number includes people who tested positive in outpatient labs but were never admitted to the hospital, said Mercy spokesman Sarah Bednarski. She said there were no additional flu-related admissions to the hospital this last weekend.

Since Dec. 1 at Toledo Hospital, there have been 42 people admitted who have tested positive for flu, including three new cases from this last weekend, said spokesman Serena Smith.

Officials at UTMC said they have also seen the number of patients with influenza-like illness increase in recent weeks. The hospital has had 29 patients with the flu in the last two weeks — of those, 10 were admitted to the hospital, said spokesman Meghan Cunningham.

Monroe County health officials said they have confirmed lab tests of people with the flu, but they have no information about the number of people admitted to hospitals in the county.

“We are seeing increased activity at this point — we are probably a little higher than we were at this point last year,” said Ms. Comerzan.

Health officials in Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties said they’re not aware of any flu-related deaths or major outbreaks in their respective jurisdictions.

The Wood County Health District, which also covers Seneca and Crawford counties, has had 48 confirmed flu cases come through emergency rooms so far this flu season, down slightly from 52 cases at this time last year. Spokesman Pat Snyder said there have been six known hospitalizations.

The Wood County-area district does not know how many flu cases have been handled by private practices, though, Ms. Snyder said. Pam Butler, Wood County health commissioner, declined comment.

Records provided by Mike Oricko, Fulton County health commissioner, put the total number of flu diagnoses in Fulton County at 127 since November, nowhere near the total of 455 flu cases between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, although Mr. Oricko noted there are still two weeks left in January this year.

Fulton, unlike Wood, logs all known flu cases, a combination of emergency room visits and diagnoses by private physicians. It’s easier to do there, Mr. Oricko said, because the small, rural county has only one hospital and a few private physicians, all of whom maintain regular contact with the health department.

“If there’s something going on, we’re going to know about it pretty quickly,” Mr. Oricko said. “We’re aware of the problem [in Lucas County]. Health departments talk to each other. We’re watching what’s going on.”

In Ottawa County, the local health department’s online records show an average of about 10 flu or flu-like cases diagnosed a week since September at Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton. Private physicians in Ottawa County usually reported five or fewer new cases — and no more than 10 — during that same time-frame.

“It’s not like it’s widespread,” Nancy Osborn, Ottawa County health commissioner, said.

The main difference there is that the flu seemed to arrive a little earlier this year, she said.

Health officials throughout the region reminded people it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The supply of children’s vaccines is running short in Ottawa County, although Ms. Osborn said the department hopes to get another batch in soon.

Staff Writer Tom Henry contributed to this report.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.