After three confirmed swine flu-related deaths in Hamilton County, local health officials are renewing their plea with the public to be treated with the new H1N1 vaccine.
So far the H1N1 virus has killed three people -- ages 27, 51 and 77 -- in Hamilton County, according to records released this week by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.
The health department is not reporting whether those who have died in the county from H1N1 had pre-existing conditions, because that cannot always be determined, health department administrator Becky Barnes said. She said that information could impart a false sense of security for people who consider themselves healthy and not at risk for flu.
"It sends the message to the community that these were really sick and fragile people" who succumbed to the flu, she said. "The three deaths were not all what you consider frail or sick individuals."
Local officials are emphasizing the safety of the new flu vaccine, which is manufactured in the same way as regular flu vaccine, Ms. Barnes said.
Some are concerned that the nasal vaccine is a weakened live virus, but health officials pointed out that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are involve live viruses.
"It's nothing new, and nothing for people to fear," Ms. Barnes said.
Pregnant women, children and young adults and health care workers should be first in line to get the H1N1 vaccine, according to a Thursday news release from the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society.
Teresa Baysden, a local family medicine specialist, said that even if the swine flu's death rate doesn't rise above that of the seasonal flu, it likely will spread to more people, ultimately causing more deaths.
Shelley Walker, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health, said 28 H1N1 deaths -- 20 adult cases and eight pediatric cases -- have been reported in Tennessee. Ms. Walker said the seasonal flu on average kills about 700 people annually in Tennessee and 36,000 nationwide.
"You can't really compare and contrast," she said. "But certainly it's not surprising that we are seeing deaths from H1N1 flu, since it has been shown to be at least as severe as seasonal flu."