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Flu Kills 82-Year-Old Woman in Colorado

December 11, 2003

DENVER (AP) _ Health officials have been urging extra care for the young and old in this flu season. And after claiming the lives of nearly a dozen Colorado children, the strain has begun its attack on the elderly.

Audrey Eleanor Menzie, 82, of Fort Collins had a flu vaccine shot this fall, but the Kansas-born former telephone operator died Sunday. She had suffered from emphysema and cancer, but influenza was listed as the cause of death.

``She may have gotten it from me, which makes me feel bad,″ said her daughter, Marcie Bierlein. ``The doctor said she did not have the reserves to fight it off.″

In a spot check around the state, coroners in Jefferson and Adams counties told The Associated Press they suspect the flu may have contributed to the deaths of four more adults. At least two were over 60.

The news comes as state health officials said the number of flu cases in Colorado had climbed to 7,600 in the past week _ more than the 6,286 cases reported the past three seasons combined.

They also had some good news: The outbreak has peaked in the Denver metropolitan area, the state’s most populated region.

A drop in flu-related visits to doctors, particularly pediatricians, is ``clear evidence″ the outbreak has peaked in and around Denver, said Douglas Benevento, executive director of the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Still, officials as far away as Montrose, in rural western Colorado, said they are seeing many flu cases.

Last year, Colorado had 19 confirmed flu deaths of all ages and 748 deaths due to flu and pneumonia. The elderly and young are considered the most vulnerable because of their weakened or underdeveloped immune systems.

The state health department does not track adult flu deaths as closely as those among children, though it receives reports from counties.

``We report to the state any time a disease could harm the public at large,″ Adams County Coroner James Hibbard said. ``In this case, we view the flu as that concern.″

Supplies of the flu vaccine have been dwindling, though the state bought 4,090 additional doses this week and has requested more from government health officials. Flu-Central in Lakewood, for example, stayed open past closing time Wednesday to dispense shots _ the firm said it has been doing 500 a day.

Health officials repeatedly have urged clinics to save the injected vaccine for higher-risk groups _ children 6 months to 23 months old, people older than 65 and anyone with chronic health problems

Bierlein, of Wilmington, Del., said since arriving in Colorado for Thanksgiving, she had taken precautions around her mother, including wearing a mask over her face. After Menzie reported feeling lethargic and after a night of coughing, Bierlein took her mother to the doctor.

The doctor sent her to the hospital.

``Had I known, I might have really pushed for her to go to the doctor earlier,″ Bierlein said. ``We didn’t go until she started coughing.″

Menzie, who became a telephone operator after her family couldn’t afford to send her to college, is also survived by her sister, two brothers, two children, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

``She just was somebody who had seen a lot of life, she cared a great deal about her family, she was somebody who had lived with severe illness for such a long time and successfully fought it off,″ Bierlein said. ``She had gotten to point where she felt no matter what, she would make it.″


On the Net:

State health site: http://www.immunizecolorado.com

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov

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