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N.D. records first confirmed flu death of season: Sanford restricts visitors at Bismarck hospital

BISMARCK – North Dakota has recorded its first confirmed influenza death of the season, and Sanford Health in Bismarck has put visitor restrictions in place to protect patients and employees from the flu.

The state Department of Health reported the death in its weekly flu update Thursday.

The woman who died was in her 30s and from northeastern North Dakota, and she had underlying medical conditions, said Jill Baber, the department’s influenza surveillance coordinator.

As of Thursday, the department reported 1,598 laboratory-confirmed flu cases since Sept. 1, up from 843 cases reported as of Jan. 9.

Based on tests, Baber said the vast majority of cases were probably caused by the Influenza A 2009 H1N1 strain, making this the first season since the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic that H1N1 has been the predominant strain.

The overall number of flu cases isn’t unusually high, but more cases are being confirmed in adults ages 20 to 49, leading to hospitalizations in a number of instances, she said.

“You see people that are normally very healthy getting very sick,” she said.

While this week’s report included the first confirmed flu death, Baber said the department has been tracking about 10 deaths per week that appeared to be from pneumonia- and flu-like illnesses but weren’t confirmed through testing.

Sanford’s lab in Bismarck has confirmed more than 250 flu cases in January, which is typical for this time of year, according to Jodi Barnum, infection prevention and control manager.

Sanford is allowing visitors at the Bismarck hospital only if they are immediate family members of a patient or have business there. Children must be 13 or older to visit.

A security guard was placed at the hospital’s main entrance Thursday to help enforce the restrictions and will remain in place for the duration of the flu season, Sanford stated in a news release.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.