26-year-old Island man is dead of H1N1 influenza
A 26-year old Martha's Vineyard resident who died August 14 is the first confirmed H1N1-related death on the Island, and the 11th death in Massachusetts, according to state public health officials.
The man, Elton Barbosa of Oak Bluffs, died at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston after he was transported off the Island earlier last week. He was a native of Brazil and worked on the Island as a painter, according to several acquaintances.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed the H1N1-related death on Monday. In a press release, DPH said the victim had no known underlying health conditions, but released no other information about the case. "Every death from flu is tragic, but it is even more so when it involves a young person," said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. "This case is also a reminder of how serious influenza can be, and why we are focused so intently on preparations for the upcoming flu season."
Several factors are unusual about the death. In eight of the 10 previously confirmed deaths, there were underlying health conditions. An underlying medical issue can make people more susceptible to contagious diseases like H1N1 flu and can create health complications that are more likely to contribute to the death.
Mr. Barbosa's age, 26, is also unusual. Of the 1,387 H1N1 cases confirmed in Massachusetts as of August 13, 63 percent were for people who were age 18 or under.
Tim Walsh, Martha's Vineyard Hospital chief executive officer, said that since the outbreak of the disease the hospital has been on the lookout for signs of flu and will continue to watch closely for signs of flu-related infections in patients.
While many in the Vineyard's Brazilian community were aware and concerned about Mr. Barbosa's death, few would say anything about him. At Island Star, a Vineyard Haven convenience store that sells traditional Brazilian products, clerk Herica Silvia said she heard the news at The World Revival Church. "I was so upset," she said. "Everybody I know is so upset."
On Tuesday, a collection jar sat on the counter of the Wrap & Roll coffee shop and convenience store in Tisbury, with a picture of Mr. Barbosa. A sign said, "Donation to the transfer of the body of Elton to Brazil. We need your help. The family thanks you."
At Wrap & Roll and other popular Brazilian stores, people appeared very fearful when asked about Mr. Barbosa and offered little or no information. Calls to leaders in the Brazilian community, owners of Brazilian businesses, and the Consul General of Brazil in Boston were not returned. Though the news was announced in local churches, pastors from those churches did not respond to requests for comment.
Local boards of health are responsible for gathering information about infectious diseases. On the Island, all local boards contract with the Vineyard Nurse Association (VNA) for that work. VNA clinical supervisor Cheryl Karam said she could not comment on the specific case, but said in cases like this the investigation would gather information such as hospital records, lab tests, interviews with the relatives and medical personnel, whether anyone else in the household shows symptoms, and whether anyone else in the household is at high risk. All of the information is recorded in a computer data base, and transmitted to state health authorities.
She said the investigation into the recent H1N1-related death on the Island is complete and closed.
The DPH has issued simple precautions that help stop the spread of the H1N1 virus, and other infectious disease. DPH recommends
Washing hands frequently with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Cover coughs with a tissue or cough into your inner elbow and not into your hands
If you or your child is sick with the flu, stay home from work or school. If you do need medical attention, call first so that your health care provider can make arrangements for your visit and minimize the chances that you'll spread the flu to others.
Stay informed about the latest developments on the H1N1 flu, by visiting www.mass.gov/dph.