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Delaware's first flu-related fatality spawns reminders for flu, Zika precautions

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

Delaware has its first flu-related death of the 2016-2017 season, so health officials are urging Delawareans again to take precautions this winter.

The state saw its first fatality earlier this month — an 87-year-old New Castle County male who had underlying health conditions.

As of this past weekend, Delaware counted 60 lab-confirmed flu cases. Division of Public Health director Dr. Karyl Rattay said these numbers are very similar to what the state saw this time last year.

“We know that we’re not anywhere near our peak yet,” Rattay said. “We monitor something called 'Influenza-like-illness' and at this point we’re really seeing pretty low levels of Influenza out in the community. But if this year follows a commonly seen trend after the holidays, we will begin to see an increase in Influenza.”

Rattay still urges people to get their flu shot.  She said while the vaccine is imperfect, it is expected to be more effective than two years ago. That’s when the strain of flu mutated, rendering the vaccine ineffective for over 20 percent of the people who received it.

Washing your hands often, covering your coughs and staying home when you feel sick also help limit the flu from spreading, Rattay said.

The state also has concerns about Zika virus, with Delaware counting 17 confirmed cases as of mid-December.

The Division of Public Health’s medical director Dr. Awele Maduka-Eze said all of the cases resulted from travel. No pregnant women have contracted the virus in the First State, but Maduka-Eze said it’s still important for people to be aware that the virus can easily be transferred to the fetus. This can cause birth defects.

“It’s important to note that at this point we do not have any antivirals that are effective against Zika virus and also we do not have any vaccine against Zika at this point in time,” Maduka-Eze said. “There’s a lot of work that has been going on to try to develop a vaccine, but as far as we know there’s not any in sight for anytime soon.”

Maduka-Eze said Zika is here to stay and the state will have to make plans to deal with it in the long-term.

She adds the Division of Public Health recommends pregnant women don’t travel to regions where Zika is active.