NASHVILLE -- State health officials called in to investigate determined that influenza was to blame for two of the 11 deaths of elderly people at Berrien County Hospital and Berrien County Nursing Center.

"Three people tested positive for the flu at the nursing home and only one of those wasn't immunized," said Dr. Lynn Feldman, South West District Health Director. "One of the three has survived and is recovering and doing well."

The cause of the deaths of several of the elderly people is listed as pneumonia while the deaths of others are contributed to various serious chronic illnesses such as heart disease and kidney failure. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu, Feldman said.

"If you do get the flu in an elderly population, they are more likely to have problems," Feldman said. "Even with the flu shortage, we made sure that the nursing homes got the flu vaccine because we realize that population is the most vulnerable."

Feldman said Wednesday that neither the Berrien County Hospital or the Berrien County Nursing Center currently has a patient with the flu under its care.

"They haven't had anybody with the flu there in over a week," Feldman said.

Demetrius Parker, a spokesman for the State Division of Public Health, said Feldman and an epidemiologist from Valdosta traveled to Nashville Monday to investigate the deaths. Parker said his office and the local health departments cooperate to investigate such deaths.

"When the local health departments or other health care providers ask us to support them in any way in determining the cause of death, that is when we get involved," Parker said. "We supported them with the investigation into those deaths and have concluded our investigation with the confirmation that there were two deaths where influenza was a contributing factor."

Parker said that Georgia hospitals and nursing homes were not mandated to contact his office or local health departments to report flu deaths unless the person who died is 17 years old or younger.

Berrien County Nursing Director Darren Pierce said that standard respiratory isolation procedures are conducted when any patient is diagnosed as having the flu to keep the illness from spreading.

To contact city editor Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.

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