Allen County had eight deaths attributed to influenza in 2013, seven more than the year before, and also saw an increase in at least one sexually transmitted disease, the county’s health commissioner reported Monday.
Although the specific strain of flu that killed its victims is unknown, H1N1 is the strain circulating this year, Health Commissioner Dr. Deb McMahan told Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department board members Monday.
The deaths occurred among people ranging in age from 54 to 95, with their average age at 79, she said.
The two most vulnerable groups included preschoolers and people in their 40s and 50s, McMahan said.
And we’ve already had another death this year, she said.
According to a report for the week ending Jan. 4 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana and 34 other states reported widespread geographic influenza activity, up from 25 states the week before.
The flu is serious; there are young people on ventilators, McMahan said.
Many flu-related deaths could be prevented with a vaccine.
There is still time to get a flu shot, McMahan said.
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to work and offers protection against H1N1, according to CDC.
McMahan also said Monday the county’s vaccine clinics and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases are producing results and delivering health care to the people who need it most, but that there is still plenty of work to do.
Other year-end statistics were brought to the attention of local health board members, including an increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea.
Although our rates were down for chlamydia, gonorrhea was up, which is a national trend, McMahan said.
Last year, the county had 616 confirmed cases of gonorrhea, 29 more cases than were confirmed in 2012.
That is far above the state and national rate. While 175 people out of 100,000 in the county were diagnosed with gonorrhea, the state and national rate is 101 per 100,000.
Because the Department of Health staffs outreach centers that provide screenings for STDs, McMahan said employees noted that a large number of the women who tested positive were also pregnant.
So we decided to track the number of pregnant women with STDs and see what the numbers were, she said. The results were disturbing.
In the case of gonorrhea, 14 percent, or 51, of the cases involved pregnant women.
There were 1,961 cases of chlamydia last year – a drop of 67 from the year before – and 22 percent, or 305, cases involved pregnant women.
McMahan said the three most disturbing observations were the number of pregnant females with STDs; the rise in gonorrhea cases; and the fact that the staff has not seen an acceptable number of young people in the STD screening clinics.
There is also a problem is reaching the groups who need the screenings the most, she said.
Those groups include people who use the Internet to hook up with anonymous sexual partners as well as swingers, McMahan said.
We’re not here to judge, but we need to reach these people and promote screening, she said.
How is it that we are 60 percent higher on screening for STDs than the state but have more cases? asked Dr. William Pond, president of the board. I mean, is Allen County a hotbed of sexually transmitted infections?
That’s the good side to these numbers – there are more people getting screened, said Kathy Thornson, the department’s director of HIV/STD prevention.
But we have a sexually active crowd, there’s no doubt about that, she said.
Allen County does not have the highest rate in the state, but is second behind Marion County, Thornson said.
McMahan said she plans to reach out to community partners to see what can be done to reach target groups and address the problem.