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Maryland Records Seventh Swine Flu Death

Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday announced an elderly person from the Washington suburbs had become Maryland's seventh fatal H1N1, or Swine Flu, victim. He also said the state had become the first in the nation with 100 percent voluntary participation by hospitals in a "biosurveillance" program aimed at quickly identifying possible flu outbreaks.

The electronic surveillance system -- known by its acronym, ESSENCE -- gathers symptom data reported by patients in hospital emergency rooms to track possible outbreaks, as well as other suspicious patterns of illnesses.

All 46 acute-care hospitals in Maryland have agreed to provide data to the system, O'Malley said. The state also is working to tie in to the surveillance system all sales of over-the-counter cold and flu medications from hundreds of pharmacies.

The governor acknowledged state budget cuts could strain Maryland's ability to prepare for an expected nationwide surge in illnesses from H1N1 later this year, but said that with good management, Maryland "should be up to the challenge," he said, "even with these budget cuts."

O'Malley is seeking about $470 million in cuts from the state's $13 billion budget this week.

He said the state is expecting to receive its first doses of H1N1 vaccines by mid-October and would begin mass vaccinations on the county level as soon as the shipments arrive.

John M. Colmers, secretary for the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the government's list of priority recipients for the vaccine is: pregnant women; children from the age of 6-months to 24-years-old; health-care providers; immuno-compromised adults; and those who may come in contact with toddlers. He said that totals about 2 million people, and they would likely have to receive multiple shots to become fully armored against the virus.

For privacy reasons, Maryland has stopped identifying common information about flu victims, including age, sex and city of residence. Colmers would only say the seventh H1N1 victim lived in the "Washington suburbs," and had suffered from an underlying illness that may have weakened the person's ability to fight off the virus. All but one of the seven who have died after contracting H1N1 in Maryland had underlying health issues, Colmers said.

Nationwide, there have been 522 deaths attributed to the virus so far. That's about half of the number estimated to die annually in Maryland alone after contracting seasonal flu viruses.

O'Malley and Colmers spoke about the state's flu preparations at Prince George's Community College in Largo where they highlighted $18 million in dedicated state funding this year to break ground on a new Health Studies Center for nursing and other majors.

By Aaron C. Davis  |  August 24, 2009; 3:58 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis  
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