Twelve in intensive care at UMHS with H1N1 virus

Saturday, January 4, 2014
By Paul Martin

January 3, 2014

Twelve patients at the University Hospital are receiving treatment in the intensive care unit after contracting the H1N1 influenza virus — the same strain seen in the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic.

Dr. Sandro Cinti, professor of infectious diseases, said several of the patients have been placed on an advanced form of life support known as ECMO — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. While the procedure is intended to give patients more time to recover from their disease, Cinti said it is both “very serious” and a “last resort” for the most seriously afflicted patients.

All twelve patients are currently breathing with the help of mechanical ventilators and receiving aggressive treatment to prevent infection while doctors treat the underlying influenza.

The patients range in age from 22 to 58 and most were considered healthy prior to contracting the disease. This range is consistent with 2009 infection patterns, which showed younger demographics infected at a higher rate than the elderly, who were most likely exposed to a similar form of the disease many years ago.

H1N1 was most widely publicized during 2009 — prior to the creation of a vaccine — when it killed over 470 individuals in the U.S. Despite fading from the public spotlight, the disease has been present in every flu season since the pandemic, Cinti said.

“Last year it was just at a very low level, but this year it’s the main flu going around,” Cinti said.

Since the current flu vaccine is designed to protect individuals against the H1N1 flu strain, doctors at UMHS speculate the 12 individuals currently in the ICU did not receive the vaccine, or were infected before it was able to take effect.

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