Fewer cases of H1N1 flu, but it’s still packing a punch

Fewer cases of H1N1 flu, but it’s still packing a punch »Play Video
Dennis holds a picture of his wife Sandy, who is in critical condition at Legacy Medical Center in Portland after coming down with the flu around Thanksgiving. (Photo: Bob Heye/KATU News)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Around the Thanksgiving holiday, Dennis, his wife Sandy, and their two adult children came down with what appeared to be colds.

Dennis and his children got better, but Sandy didn’t and nearly a month later is in critical condition, hanging on to life, at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

She hadn’t gotten a flu shot yet.

Dennis had gotten one through his work and his two children got theirs after their mom got sick.

"The hardest part was actually having my two adult kids come in and see mom and then leave the room crying," Dennis said during a news conference at Legacy Friday afternoon. "It just tore me up."

The family asked that their last names not be used.

Doctors at the hospital said they are doing everything they can to help Sandy get well. Doctors and Dennis said there are encouraging signs she will pull through but she remains on life support.

Officials at Legacy Health say they’ve treated a handful of patients for the flu this year, specifically the H1N1 strain.

"We're very much in middle of flu season," said Dr. Brian Young, a critical care physician. "It's clearly hit here in Portland. … If you ask me, I think we're on the upswing of our curve (in the number of flu cases)."

In 2009 there was a pandemic of H1N1. This year’s strain is affecting fewer people, but health officials say some cases have been serious and life threatening.

"This year, similar to 2009, we’re seeing patients that also have very, very serious pneumonias, respiratory failure," Young said.

Health officials say the flu season lasts for months but there is still time to get your flu shot to help prevent the illness.

"The most important thing – the message I want to get out there is, get your flu shot," Young said. "That’s the best thing that you can do to help yourself to prevent getting the flu. It’s also protective for those around you."

He added that good and frequent hand-washing, covering mouths when coughing and staying home when sick will help keep people from getting the flu.

He said the vaccine is a good match to the strains circulating this year.

Don Strick, with Clark County Public Health, said there have been six confirmed cases of flu in the last two weeks in the county. Three of them are confirmed to be H1N1, but the other three may also be H1N1 because some labs don’t differentiate subtypes.

"H1N1 seems to be the most widely circulating flu virus this year, locally and nationally. Fortunately, there's plenty of vaccine," he said.