The sudden death of a Soldotna man earlier this month has been confirmed by the Alaska Department of Health Thursday to be the third fatality linked to the H1N1 flu strain this year.
The deadly flu strain has been the most prolific strand of the flu at Central Peninsula Hospital this season and the virus is one of several being treated by this year’s seasonal flu vaccine.
Although the state could not release the name of the deceased, being restrained by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Greg Wilkinson, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health confirmed the death occurred on Jan. 11 in the gulf region of the state.
Robert Suder 49, died in his home on Jan. 11, one week after returning from a holiday visit to see his wife and kids in Arizona.
Suder, who was an optometrist at Visions Optical in Soldotna, returned to work for one day after the trip before calling in sick, said his mother Barbara Gunsolus.
According to an autopsy performed by the Alaska State Medical Examiners Office, released to the family, Suder tested positive for H1N1 influenza, which progressed to pneumonia. Gunsolus said Suder had complained of a sore throat and congestion and went to go see his doctor, who diagnosed him with bronchitis.
Three days later his mother found him dead at home in his bathroom.
“He was such a healthy person this all happened so fast,” she said.
A new regulation, which took effect Dec. 1, 2013, requires medical providers to notify the state of any adult flu related deaths, Wilkinson said.
As of Jan. 29, the state had reported two adult fatalities related to H1N1, one in the interior and the other in the southcentral region. Wilkinson said the reason this case had not been counted yet was because the death investigation had not been completed and no death certificate had been released, but the patient information had already been filed in the system.
Suder had previously had problems with an eye infection and was taking Prednisone to treat it, she said.
According to drugs.com, prednisone is a corticosteroid that prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It has also been known to suppress the immune system.
“I used to take it for allergies and it’s a terrible drug that weakens the immune system,” Gunsolus said. “He had a history of asthma.”
Wife Amy Suder said her husband was not sick during his visit but she and their kids came down with the flu shortly after he left. They have since recovered. Knowing it takes three days for flu symptoms to arise, she suspected he may have picked up the virus while traveling on the airplane and called US Airways to see if anyone else had gotten sick.
“Its just a shock,” she said. “He was completely healthy that’s why I was concerned foul play may be involved.”
Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said troopers responded to the aid call on Jan. 11 at 9:07 a.m. and labeled it a sudden death but ruled out anything criminal.
Gunsolus said Suder did not believe in getting flu vaccinations, advice he adhered from listening to Michael Savage, a radio talk show host who considers them dangerous. She on the other hand gets a flu shot every year.
Dana McDonald, Infection Prevention Nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital said, the H1N1, or swine flu, has been the predominating flu strain this year with more than 50 laboratory-confirmed cases. Only three cases were not H1N1, she said. Eight people have been severe enough to be admitted to the hospital, she said.
She said this year has seen fewer flu cases than last year, which had 80 confirmed cases. The vaccination offers great protection against the H1N1 strain, she said.
“It is not too late for people to get vaccinated because a majority of the flu cases we saw (during the 2011-12 flu season) came in the spring,” McDonald said. “It is my understanding that 20-40 year olds have been hit pretty hard so it is important to still get the flu shot and practice good hand washing.”
According to the Department of Public Health, flu cases jumped to 220 cases statewide from Dec. 1 to Dec. 28, 2013. Alaska was one of 35 states where widespread flu activity is reported.
H1N1 is the same flu strain that became a world pandemic in 2009, which affected more than 209 countries and killed more than 14,140 people.
McDonald said H1N1 symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms – cough, runny or stuffy nose, fever, headaches, fatigue and chills and in some instances, vomiting and diarrhea.
Amy Suder said her late husband did not like going to the doctor and thought he could take care of his illness himself.
“He was to the point where he couldn’t stand on his own. If you show serious signs, you need to go to the ER,” she said.
Wilkinson said flu vaccines cover H1N1 and recommends everyone get one every year.
The Kenai Public Health Center and both Safeway and Fred Meyer pharmacies can administer a flu shot or flu nasal spray.
“People die from the flu every year,” Wilkinson said. “The vaccine protects against H1N1 and it is not too late for people to get a flu shot. Protect yourselves and the ones you love.”
Amy Suder, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., said he was such a kind loving person. She said she planned on moving the family back to Alaska.
“Everything was great and just like that he is gone,” she said. “His children will grow up without their father and I lost the love of my life.”