The Delaware Division of Public Health announced another flu fatality Feb. 6, bringing the total to 21 so far this season.  Of those, sixteen have been in New Castle County, two in Kent and three in Sussex. All  had underlying medical conditions, and only two were younger than 65 years old. Those were in their early 50s, according to the DPH.

People are asked to check in daily with loved ones and neighbors who are seniors or have medical conditions.  Over half of the recent deaths were people who lived at home and likely received medical care too late, according to the DPH.

The statewide total of confirmed cases stands at 2,041 so far. Only the H1N1 outbreak in 2009-2010 resulted in more. This season has seen the largest number of flu fatalities in a decade.  The total from all flu seasons from the fall of 2009 to spring 2014 – five years – is 22.

“Flu can make you very ill, very quickly,” said DPH Director Karyl Rattay in a press release. “One particular flu strain, the Influenza A strain, is especially tough on seniors and those with underlying conditions.”

Persons with emerging flu symptoms should call – not visit – their medical providers, who may be able to prescribe anti-viral medication.  Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.

Recommended actions to protect seniors and vulnerable populations are:  

· If you begin to show symptoms of the flu, contact a medical provider immediately.

· If you are receiving treatment in a long-term care facility or in-home care, ask if the staff is vaccinated against the flu and, if not, the staff person should wear a mask at all times.

· Visits at home or in a facility should be limited if the visitor is under age 16, or has the flu or is at risk of exposure to the flu. The illness can be transmitted prior to someone showing symptoms.

· If you are living with a senior and a family member contracts the flu, keep the two separate as much as possible and ensure everyone in the home follows sanitary precautions.

· Wash hands frequently with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially after you cough, sneeze, or touch your face.

· Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. Droplets from a sneeze can travel up to six feet.

· Stay home when sick and do not return to work or school until 24 hours after a fever is gone.

· Ensure all your loved ones are vaccinated.

Vulnerable populations include the very young, pregnant women and those who recently gave birth, and people with underlying medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and individuals with weak immune systems.

For further information on the flu and DPH flu clinics, visit flu.delaware.gov or call 800-282-8672. Get a fact sheet for elderly and vulnerable populations online at  http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/fluprotectingelderlyandvulnerable.pdf