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Flu On The Rise, Doctors Monitoring Several H1N1 Cases Locally

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The flu is proving fatal, and putting people in the hospital. Not so much children and the elderly, but rather, middle-aged adults.

Patients range in age from their mid-30s to their 80s.

"Several of the severe cases that we've seen are in patients who have not received their vaccine," says Allegheny General Hospital infectious diseases specialist Dr. Andrew Sahud.

The strain that's wreaking havoc is H1N1.

"Nationally, the H1N1 is by and large the majority of cases," he adds.

People can become very sick with this. Their immune systems react so strongly that their lungs don't work properly.

"Death by oxygen starvation," he explains.

The patient's blood has to be circulated through a machine to get carbon dioxide out and oxygen in. The blood is then pumped back into the patient, the machine essentially doing the job of the lungs, but outside the body.

As of Jan. 4, the Allegheny County Health Department says there are 110 confirmed cases for the season -- 66 in just the past week.

The average age is 45. One in three cases ends up in the hospital. The average age of those hospitalized is 57.

Of course, this is just what's reported. Many more cases are out there.

"You don't want to overreact to what you're seeing in an inpatient setting," Dr. Sahud cautions. "We haven't met any epidemic threshold at this point."

Luckily, H1N1 is covered in this year's flu vaccine. H1N1 is a strain of Influenza A.

In addition, the vaccine covers another strain of A and a strain of Influenza B. A few cases of those have popped up across the country, too. So far, all strains have responded to standard medication.

"We always see young people who become sick with the flu," says Dr. Sahud. "People need to recognize in most instances it's a preventable infection. It's a treatable infection if caught early enough with antivirals."

There has been one local death -- a 62-year-old with preexisting medical conditions.

Last year at this time, Allegheny County had 330 cases of the flu and four deaths.

Every year, people die of the flu. Your best protection is the flu vaccine, which is about 60 to 70 percent effective. You can also stay away from sick people, and wash your hands.

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