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H1N1 deaths increase: Why is it killing otherwise healthy individuals?


H1N1 deaths increase, vaccines running low
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

US News and World Report said yesterday (Oct 30, 2009) that 114 deaths, from 2009 H1N1, have occured in children, with 19 of those having happened in the last week (read more).  With the number of deaths rising as more are exposed to the flu, and limited supplies of vaccine, there are many concerns and questions in people's minds.  Today, in Allentown, PA, the lines for the vaccine wrapped outside the building and around the corner with people arriving 2 hours before scheduled to get in line to receive the vaccine.

One of the questions people have is why H1N1 seems to have no rhyme and reason when it comes to those who die from reported, in an article By John Daley, on the death of a 52 year old University teacher:  "State health officials say it's only a small subset of those who get sick with H1N1 who die. Those fatal cases often involve the one-two punch of the H1N1 virus combined with a bacterial infection, just like the illness that claimed the life of a popular Weber State University teacher this week.

The death of 52-year-old math teacher Diane Pugmire left colleagues like Dixie Blackinton stunned, because Diane seemed so healthy.

"I had no idea she was sick," Blackinton said.

After taking a nap Monday, Diane complained of difficulty breathing, was taken to the hospital and soon was fighting to survive."

Dr. Anne Schuchat who is the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is quoted By Steven Reinberg of US News and World Report as saying:  "Among adults hospitalized with the H1N1 swine flu, 45 percent did not have a pre-existing medical problem and 6 percent were pregnant.  Among hospitalized children, 5.8 percent had sickle anemia or another blood disorder...The most common underlying conditions [for children] were asthma and chronic lung disease, neuromuscular diseases and sickle cell or other blood disorders (read more)."

So, why are people who appear to be healthy dying so suddenly?  Research by the Imperial College London say that the virus from the H1N1 flu goes deeper into the lungs than the seasonal flu suggesting this is one of the reasons it causes more severe problems (read more).   A study done by University of Michigan also suggests that those who have a serious case of swine flu are at a greater risk for blood clots in the lungs (for more info).  

Most cases of H1N1 are mild but as more and more people are exposed the number of serious cases will increase because there will be more cases of the flu overall.  In more serious cases most people's symptoms increase over four days before they are hospitalized but then they become critically ill very quickly, generally going into ICU within 48 hours of being hospitalized.

For a link to a video that shows how the virus attacks the body click here.


  • Tracy Woolrich, RN HHP 5 years ago

    Excellent article Mary Ann. The majority of the deaths in our ICU are from secondary bacterial infections (pnuemonia) that occurs AFTER the person appears to be recovering from the H1N1. It then quickly progresses to intersitial edema in the lungs and ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome). They are by then on a ventilator and most likely have chest tubes inserted. Nearly all of the patients have died at this point because the lungs loose their "pliability" and no longer inflate properly. Sad indead.

  • Kathleen 5 years ago

    Mary Ann - I think the important message is stay healthy. Take seriously the need to eat well, rest, get plenty of fluids. Newer research shows the M2 protein in H1N1 attacks the respiratory epithelial cells, but that antioxidants can render the M2 protein - showing the power of plant based foods. The study is published in the FASEB journal.

  • Kathleen 5 years ago

    Oops - didn't finish that sentence - antioxidants can render the M2 protein harmless, found so far in lab studies.

  • ReadyMom 5 years ago

    Part 1: Families need to consider the following home preparations. It is suggested that you put these plans in place,NOW:

    • Have alternative child care options, if the adult members still have to report to work. Those options should be for SMALL groups of 6 or less children
    • Have a well stocked pantry of AT LEAST two-weeks of ADDITIONAL groceries (in addition to what is already in stock in their homes!).
    o Parents may not be able to shop due to illness in their family (taking care of a sick child or the adult member becoming sick)
    o Stores *may* have reduced hours, if illness starts to affect employees
    o Families may decide NOT to shop, if the have a child or other family member at home in the ‘high risk’ category that makes getting the virus more dangerous to their health/life

  • ReadyMom 5 years ago

    Part 2:
    • Have all the necessary ‘over-the-counter’ meds necessary for home treatment of the flu already purchased.
    o Hospitals and Doctor offices will be overwhelmed with more serious cases
    o Stores may run out of the needed meds & supplies (just look at England & Australia for examples of that!)
    o Pharmacies are generally smaller stores than grocery stores and number of employee are smaller. Those stores may have reduced hours due to employee shortage due to illness.
    • Have a ‘Flu Buddy’, having another adult available to care for the children of their household, should one or both adults in a household become ill.
    • Make a ‘Flu Kit’ for your college student to keep in their dorm.

    • Looking in on the Elderly or Infirmed
    o They may be ill with the flu and need help
    o They may have other health issues that they could not get help with, if our hospitals and doctors become overwhelmed with flu patients
    o They may need you to sh