At least four Utah residents, including BYU dance professor Delynne Peay, have died from complications of the flu after a holiday season of gatherings and get togethers gave the virus an opportunity to spread.
The return of the 2009 strain of H1N1 has proven to be lethal, but steps can be taken to recognize and prevent the spread of the virus throughout the backyard of the BYU community.
The statewide impact
The Utah Department of Health has reported more than 478 hospitalizations due to the flu during the 2013–2014 season in a report released Jan. 11, and an additional 49 Utahns are currently hospitalized with the flu. Twenty-two of the 49 cases are from the Salt Lake health district, followed by the Southwest district with seven cases.
The majority of the cases reported are between ages 25–49, according to the Utah Department of Health report. Additionally, 54.2 percent of all cases reported this season are male.
“There is a high percentage of the H1N1 virus in Utah,” said Ben Johnson, employee health coordinator of the Intermountain Medical Group. “A lot more of it, for some reason.”
A lethal virus
The H1N1 virus killed between about 2,500 and 6,000 people in the United States between April and Oct. 17, 2009, according to the CDC.
The 2009 flu shot did not cover the H1N1 virus, and the danger has increased due to H1N1’s ability to mutate, said Lance Madigan, Utah County of Health’s public information officer.
“It tends to be a little more severe,” Johnson said of H1N1 in comparison to other flu strains.
Recognizing the severity of the flu and when hospitalization is appropriate can be difficult, but Madigan said there are several signs to look for.
“You actually have the flu for a couple of days, then show symptoms,” Madigan said. “If you feel completely overcome, compromised and have also had a history of asthma, (those) are a few signs that you should go to the hospital.”
Johnson also said respiratory problems and a consistent fever of over 100 degrees can be symptoms worthy of a hospital visit.
People often get the flu confused with the stomach flu, according to Johnson.
“The flu is when you’re down for two weeks. The real way to know if you have the flu is to actually go into the outpatient clinics and get tested,” Johnson said in regard to the many people who confuse the stomach flu with the flu virus.
Prevention is key
The CDC and the Utah Department of Health encourage people to get a flu shot to protect families from the the virus.
Johnson said 95 percent of influenza patients had H1N1, a statistic that could have been prevented through proper vaccinations.
“Vaccinations among high-risk patients were low,” Johnson said.
Many people choose not to receive a flu shot for reasons such as, “I don’t get the flu,” or “I can still get the flu despite receiving the shot,” but Johnson says otherwise.
“CDC studies show that the flu shot is among the safest of all immunizations,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have the facts. Use real data.”
Saying “I don’t get the flu” is not a valid reason to skip vaccinations, Johnson emphasized.
“Maybe you get a lighter case. You become a carrier. You spread that around,” Johnson said, adding that the H1N1 virus is particularly contagious. “By getting a flu shot, you provide protection for others.”
More information on flu vaccinations available can be found on www.utahcountyonline.org/dept/health/flushots/index.asp.
Johnson advised students and faculty to stay home if displaying any flu-like symptoms to prevent the spread of the flu.
“We encourage students and faculty and other BYU employees to review the safety information found on the Utah County Health Department site and on flu.gov,” said Todd Hollingshead, BYU spokesman.