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Illness led to pneumonia

By Staff | Oct 17, 2009

A family spokesperson confirmed Friday that Michelle Olson, 30, was the Cape Coral woman who died Wednesday at Cape Coral Hospital after contracting the H1N1 virus.

A spokesperson for her parents, Jerry and Diana Olson of Cape Coral, said she died from complications related to developing a double case of pneumonia.

A mother of three children – Tyler, Cory and Brooke – and a fiance to North Fort Myers resident George Hawkins, Michelle Olson had childhood asthma and was prone to respiratory problems, sources said Friday.

Her family said that even though she was diagnosed with H1N1, she was a good person and they didn’t want her to be considered another statistic of this burgeoning pandemic. The Fort Myers-born mother worked in telecommunications at the Cape Coral Police Department.

Coral Ridge Funeral Home has scheduled visitation services from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday followed by the funeral at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Christian Fellowship Church. A trust fund also has been set up for Olson’s three children at the Florida Gulf Bank.

A statement concerning her death was first issued Wednesday afternoon by the Lee County Health Department, yet didn’t include her name. It said that a 30-year-old Cape Coral woman had died after contracting H1N1, and that she had no pre-existing conditions that weakened her immune system.

Whether asthma or other respiratory issues are considered a pre-existing conditions is left to debate, but Jennifer James-Mesloh, spokesperson for the health department, said the department issued a statement with the only information they knew at the time – that a 30-year-old Cape Coral woman had died from H1N1.

Other employees of the City of Cape Coral have developed flu-like symptoms, said spokesperson Connie Barron.

“We have had some people out sick,” she said. “I don’t know whether they had H1N1 and even if I did know I couldn’t tell you that.”

Agencies across the county have been tight-lipped about releasing personal information on people who are diagnosed with the virus. Privacy laws under HIPAA prevent city or health department officials from releasing any personal information about Lee County residents who die from H1N1.

Barron said she doubted the city’s situation is any different from other public agencies across the county. For instance, some students in the Lee County School District have been staying home with flu-like symptoms and the H1N1 virus had been identified among students.

But, individual cases where people have contract H1N1 are no longer being tracked by government agencies or the health department. Deaths continue to be reported to the state.

This summer the Lee County Health Department went to community mitigation, which means that instead of tracking cases of H1N1, the department educates people on techniques to curb the spread of the virus.

Four people have died from it in Lee County. There have been 112 deaths throughout the state, 20 of which were in people under the age of 24.

James-Mesloh said there is a “major outbreak” of H1N1 in Lee County. The department continues to stress that all residents get the vaccine available in clinics starting Oct. 26.

“We know when one person gets infected, they can infect 18-20 people,” said James-Mesloh. “This is one of the main reasons we talk about people getting vaccinated. You aren’t only protecting yourself but others.”

The health department has a number of surveillance systems – emergency departments and sentinel physicians, for example – that are keeping an eye on the spread of H1N1. They also classify the prevalence of the virus as sporadic, localized or widespread.

According to James-Mesloh, Lee County has been teetering on the cusp of localized and widespread, but currently they describe the virus as localized.

The H1N1 vaccine will be given out voluntarily at a number of clinics run by the health department and at local high schools beginning Oct. 26.