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Deadly flu strain striking young, healthy people

By Rana Novini, Anchor/Reporter, r.novini@krdo.com
Published On: Jan 08 2014 07:30:00 PM CST

Doctors believe the H1N1 virus from 2009 is the same strain that's making people sick this flu season. KRDO NewsChannel 13's Rana Novini is finding out why young and healthy people are also at risk.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Doctors believe the virus that's hitting Colorado hard this flu season is the same H1N1 strain from the 2009 pandemic.

According to El Paso County Health Department Medical Director Bill Letson, this flu season is the worst since the 2009 flu season.  This year, it's not just the elderly or very young who are susceptible.

"What's unusual this year is there are young, healthy adults showing up in the hospital with influenza which usually doesn't happen," Letson said.  

The reason behind that is complicated, according to Letson, but one reason is that the virus is relatively new.  Since the H1N1 virus has only been around for about five years, our bodies have not had a chance to build natural immunities against it, Letson said.  Most seasonal flu viruses have been around for decades and the average, healthy adult has built at least some immunity to it which can lessen the symptoms of influenza.  Since that's not the case with H1N1, the potential to make someone ill to the point of hospitalization or death is more apparent.

One Colorado Springs woman knows the deadly effects of H1N1.  In 2010, it almost took her life.

"My blood pressure was bottoming out and my heart rate was over 150," Melodee Ryan told KRDO NewsChannel 13.  "I was literally dying."

Ryan has a low white blood cell count which weakens her immune system.  Doctors told her that contributed to pushing her to the verge of death.

"The doctors came in and said, 'Sir, your wife is dying.  You should prepare for her funeral," Ryan said.  

But against the odds, Ryan survived the flu. It took her about six months to recover.

A total of 160 people have been hospitalized in El Paso County because of the flu in the 2012-2013 flu season.  There have been no deaths reported in El Paso County. In Pueblo County, two people have died this year.

Doctors say it's not too late to get vaccinated.  This season's flu vaccine includes the H1N1 strain.  KRDO's medical expert, Dr. John Torres, says that you can still get the flu after getting the flu shot, but your symptoms won't be as bad.

"It prevents hospitalizations and probably most importantly, it prevents deaths," Dr. John said.

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