Flu Epidemic Hits Hawaii?

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Are we headed for a flu epidemic? Last week the state recorded an unusually high number of deaths from the flu and pneumonia. Hawaii's death rate was higher than the national average.

The last thing a pregnant woman needs is to get sick. That's why Tasha Ferriman-Denison is getting a flu shot, albeit late in the season. "To prevent me and m baby from getting the flu."

A smart move, says her doctor, Kathleen Kozak, at Straub Hospital. "Overall we have been seeing a lot of patients in the hospital who are very sick."

The state says last week, 10% of all deaths in Hawaii were from flu or pneumonia. That's higher than the national average of 7.7%. If 7.9% of all deaths in the nation were from flu or pneumonia, that would qualify as an epidemic. Kozak says, "I am concerned about the higher rates of pneumonia and influenza deaths in Hawaii thus far."

Dr. Paul Effler at the State Department of Heath says it's not as scary as it seems. Effler says so few people die in Hawaii on any given week, that just a few deaths can really skew the percentage. He points out the state population is relatively small at 1.2 million.

On this particular week, 80 people had died, and 8 of them died of pneumonia or the flu, thus the 10% statistic. Another example: the week previous (week 8 by the state's count) 49 had died, and 4 from pneumonia or the flu.

The good news- it's preventable, and not too late to schedule a flu shot with your doctor. Kozak reminds, "The best way to treat the flu is to prevent it."

The state says the traditional flu season lasts 33 weeks, from the first week of October through mid-May. The state says to dial 211, its referral line, to find out about late season flu shot clinics. Or you can schedule a flu shot with your doctor.