State health officials confirmed two more deaths Monday in Kentucky associated with H1N1 swine flu.
Officials said tests have determined that a 13-year-old Caldwell County girl who died Sept. 23 had H1N1, although the exact cause of her death is under investigation. Hers is the first death of a child in Kentucky that has been connected to swine flu.
In addition, authorities said Monday that a Christian County woman in her late 20s, who died Thursday, also had H1N1. The woman apparently had other underlying health problems, according to the Christian County Health Department.
The reports bring to four the number of deaths in Kentucky associated with H1N1 flu. Last month, a Fayette County woman in her 50s and a 41-year-old woman in Jefferson County died from the illness.
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Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department for Public Health launched a new toll-free flu hotline Monday morning. Kentuckians can call with questions about H1N1 or seasonal flu.
The toll-free number is 1-877-843-7727.
The call-in service will operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. It will be staffed by nurses who have information about flu and flu vaccines.
Allison Beshear, a spokeswoman for Western Kentucky's Pennyrile District Health Department, called the 13-year-old girl's death a "tragedy, happening in someone so young." The child had attended Caldwell County Middle School the week before her death, Beshear said. The county schools have reported a few more cases of flu-like illness, but there has been no dramatic increase, she said.
Laura Hammons, a spokeswoman for the Christian County Health Department, said the young woman who died there was admitted to the Jenny Stuart Medical Center in Hopkinsville a few days before she died. Hammons said she wasn't sure whether the woman was hospitalized because of flu or other medical problems.
Additional flu information is on the state's redesigned Health Alerts Web site: http://healthalerts.ky.gov. You also can follow KYHealthAlerts on Twitter, officials said.
"We want Kentuckians to be able to access the most current and accurate information related to the ongoing 2009 H1N1 flu situation," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement. "Particularly, now that vaccine is beginning to become available, we know that citizens will have questions about whether the H1N1 flu vaccine is right for them and when they might be able to receive it."
The flu hotline is being administered by Louisville's Kosair Children's Hospital, through a contract with the state health department with federal funding.
The hotline will operate at least through the end of December, officials said Monday.
Initial supplies of H1N1 vaccine — in nasal spray form — are expected to arrive in Kentucky this week. Injectable H1N1 vaccine will follow soon after that.
Seasonal flu vaccine already is available, although high demand has caused some spot shortages. More of seasonal and H1N1 vaccines will be arriving in coming weeks, state health officials say.
Reports of H1N1 in Kentucky — and other states — have been climbing since schools reopened a few weeks ago. Low attendance generally attributed to flu has caused several schools around Kentucky to close, something that usually doesn't start happening until winter.
Dr. William Hacker, the state health commissioner, said flu levels across the Kentucky now are similar to what typically would be seen in January or February.