This Year's Flu Season Atypical

SPARKS, NV - Northern Nevada Medical Center's emergency room Doctor Lisa Nelson says the patient load here has doubled in the last two months.

Since Thanksgiving, she says, most of the patients have been coming in with flu symptoms.

“Always have fevers and extreme body aches. I mean they are sick people, coughing up a lot of phlegm, and they just feel terrible. People describe it as I feel like I've been run over by a truck,” says Dr. Nelson.

Nelson says if the patient comes within 72 hours of the symptoms--and they test positive for influenza--she will prescribe an anti-viral called Tamiflu to lessen the symptoms of flu.

But if the patient has an underlying medical condition like high blood pressure, kidney, heart or lung disease, the flu can be deadly.

And what's unusual this year: those who are dying of a confirmed case of influenza are not the very young or old, but young to middle-aged adults--patients between the ages of 18 and 64.

“This flu season we've had seven deaths, and lab-confirmed cases. 7 of these cases were laboratory-confirmed and they also were confirmed to be H1N1 strain. And it's the dominate strain we are seeing this year,” says County Epidemiologist Dr. Randal Todd.

But there are other aspects to this flu season that Dr. Todd and others are taking note of.

Nationwide 48% of adults hospitalized for influenza are obese--typically that number is more like 25%.

Also of note: typically 4% of pregnant women are hospitalized; this year it's 22%.

Health experts say if you want to avoid an emergency room visit with the flu, avoid the disease by washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough, and if you are sick, call in to work.

And yes, the flu shot is still available.

In California, 45 people have died so far this flu season.

That number includes 2 babies.

The state's department of public health is looking into 50 additional deaths.

California typically tracks flu-related deaths among people 65 and younger.