1 dead, 8 ill with swine flu in Allegheny County
By Luis Fábregas
Published: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 11:57 a.m.
At least one person has died and eight have been hospitalized with serious complications from the swine flu, officials at Pittsburgh hospitals said on Monday.
Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital said four patients are hospitalized in the North Side facility. All became so sick, they had to be hooked to a machine that helps deliver oxygen to the bloodstream.
The patients were diagnosed with the H1N1 strain of influenza, commonly known as swine flu.
“We're seeing such a large number of cases that we expect the peak to be much more severe than we typically see,” said Dr. Bob Moraca, an AGH cardiothoracic surgeon who is involved in the care of the flu patients.
Four other patients are hospitalized with the flu but not critically ill, he said.
In UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, the treatment machine known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, has been used on five patients, including one who died, said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC's chief of emergency medicine.
Yealy said patients treated with the machines are experiencing “the most serious complications short of death.”
The patient who died was an older woman with an underlying condition, Yealy said.
He could not identify her or provide details because of federal privacy laws.
Doctors diagnosed at least five other patients at UPMC with swine flu during the past two weeks. Those patients did not require advanced treatment with ECMO machines.
Flu is on the rise in much of the country, and the prevalent strain is H1N1, which was responsible for a 2009 pandemic that killed 18,550 people around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
The H1N1 strain is included in this season's flu vaccine, but health experts say older people or those with underlying illnesses can become infected even after getting a flu shot.
“Vaccination is not a complete guarantee,” Yealy said. “If you are very sick, you may still get it.”
Flu is always unpredictable, but the H1N1 strain tends be more severe and doesn't kill only older patients, health experts said. Authorities in Oregon said a 5-year-old boy died from complications related to the virus since becoming ill on Christmas. Last year, 169 children died from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville said fewer than 10 patients have been hospitalized with the flu. None received ECMO treatment, but some were placed on ventilators, Children's spokeswoman Andrea Kunicky said.
The number of people diagnosed with flu in several Western Pennsylvania counties increased in the past few weeks but has not approached the number reported at this point a year ago.
Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said 110 people had confirmed cases of the flu through Jan. 4. Statewide, 2,180 people tested positive for the flu through Dec. 28, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“We're on the upswing,” Hacker said. “We definitely encourage people to get vaccinated.”
Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. Reach him at 412-320-7998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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