Flu tops murder for cause of death in Alaska in 2016

Flu and pneumonia killed more Alaskans in 2016 than assault or homicide, according to new statistics from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the state, according to the department’s annual vital statistics report, released Monday. AnchorCancer is still the leading cause of death, followed by heart disease and unintentional injury, according to the report.

Flu and pneumonia killed 60 people in the state in 2016. That includes parts of two flu seasons, which typically span from October through May; in the 2015–2016 season, seven adult flu-associated deaths were reported, according to an influenza surveillance report for 2015–2016 from DHSS.

The top causes of death shift most years, though two or three causes tend to jockey for the top spot — cancer and heart disease tend to be close statistically, followed by unintentional injuries.

In addition to the top causes of death, the report also aggregates alcohol-induced deaths — which do not include alcohol-influenced motor vehicle accidents — firearm related deaths and drug-induced deaths. Alcohol-induced deaths claimed the lives of 182 people, firearm-related deaths claimed the lives of 174 people, and drug-induced deaths clamed the lives of 131 people, according to the report. Some of those deaths also fit within the top 10 categories — for instance, the seventh leading cause of death is chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which are often linked to alcohol abuse.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases annual recommendations for flu vaccines based on predictions of the strains of flu viruses expected to be active each year. The state distributes vaccines through the Alaska Immunization Program to health care providers at no charge and tracks vaccinations through a record database.

Central Peninsula Hospital is gearing up for its annual drive-in flu vaccine clinic, scheduled for Wednesday from 3–5:30 p.m. in Soldotna. This year, it will be held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church on Fireweed Street, largely to avoid traffic snarls as Central Peninsula Hospital’s parking lot gets repaved, said Camille Sorensen, the director of marketing for the hospital.

“Normally we have it that we route it through our covered parking area, but because of the construction in our parking lot, there’s a lot of congestion and traffic issues,” she said.

The clinic is free and distributes vaccines for adults 18 years old and older, running as long as supplies last. The hospital doesn’t expect a shortage of vaccines and usually distributes several hundred shots, Sorensen said.

The Kenai Public Health Center on Barnacle Way in Kenai offers immunizations during regular appointments and holds Saturday vaccine clinics every second Saturday of the month for clients ages 29 or younger — this month, on Oct. 14, from 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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