3 more die of H1N1 flu in Michigan, with a dozen others on life support

Potentially deadly H1N1 — the influenza virus strain behind the 2009 pandemic — continues its resurgence in Michigan, with three more deaths reported by hospital officials.

About a dozen adults and children — patients who previously were healthy — have been on life support at the University of Michigan Health System’s hospitals because of the virus, according to the hospital system.

Three adults have died, according to a health system spokeswoman. An infant from central Michigan also has died from H1N1, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“These deaths are among previously healthy individuals. This is not the group that the public usually thinks about as being susceptible to serious illness with influenza,” said Dr. Matt Davis, chief medical executive for the state health department and a U-M professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of internal medicine.

Many of the hospitalized patients were transferred to U-M from other hospitals because their flu was so severe.

In addition to traditional ventilators, the U-M health system offers extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, technology for patients who can no longer breathe on their own. The machinery supports not only the patient’s lungs, as a ventilator does, but also the heart, Davis said.

It appears the sickest patients either didn’t get the flu vaccine or received it shortly before getting sick, said Dr. Sandro Cinti, an infectious diseases doctor at U-M and at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. It takes two full weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective.

“This looks like 2009, but this time we have a vaccine,” he said.

At the same time, patients in less-severe condition are recuperating in other area hospitals. According to state surveillance reports, 11 Michigan hospitals — part of monitoring efforts — reported 121 hospitalizations because of flu as of Saturday.

Flu activity was slow in the fall but surged in the final weeks of December, prompting the Michigan Department of Community Health to upgrade its flu activity reporting to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from “local” activity to “regional.”

Cinti said it’s tough to predict the trajectory of flu season going forward.

Extreme cold weather might shut down schools, which can be flu hot spots. But it also forces people to stay inside and in close proximity with those who might be infected.

The key, he said, is not the weather — it’s prevention.

But some consumers remain reluctant, fearing they will get the flu from the flu shot or that vaccines cause autism — theories that research repeatedly has proven wrong, said Cinti, who also cared for patients in the 2009 pandemic before a vaccine became available.

Maria Young hears it too — what she calls “old wives’ tales.”

Young is the owner of University Pharmacy on the Wayne State University campus. It administers more than 5,000 vaccines or more each year, but there’s still plenty of resistance, too.

Some clients — even police officers and firefighters — are still squeamish about needles. And there’s a push back against public health campaigns and doctors’ advice, she said.

“People just don’t like to be told what to do,” she said.

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily