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H1N1 Strain at 'Near Epidemic' Levels

By: Olivia Fecteau Email
By: Olivia Fecteau Email

ROWAN COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) – After her husband died from flu complications last month, Kimberly Wilson-McDowell said she was still in shock about what had happened.

“Just happened so fast,” Wilson-McDowell said. “How? You know? People have it every year and you just think, something so common, you know, it’s just easy to fight off.”

Benji McDowell, 23, worked as a paramedic for King’s Daughters Medical Transport, and before that, for Greenup County EMS. Wilson-McDowell, who also works for Greenup County EMS, said her husband was a “strong, healthy guy” before he started experiencing flu symptoms in early January.

The Centers for Disease Control have said this year’s strain of H1N1 is at near-epidemic levels. That’s the same strain that caused widespread death back in 2009.

Doctors say it’s much worse than the general strain of the flu and is infecting and killing patients who are otherwise young and healthy, like McDowell.

Wilson-McDowell said her husband died one week after he started feeling sick. He had gone into town to run errands one day, and Wilson-McDowell said he called her an hour later to tell her he couldn’t move or get out of his car. He was taken to the hospital and put on a ventilator. Wilson-McDowell said he died before he could be taken to the University of Kentucky for a lung procedure.

Doctors say this strain of the flu hits hard.

“This is a virus that infects the lungs,” Dr. Thomas Rushton said. “It invokes a strong immune response and so we will see young people that are healthy. They are, in fact, so healthy that they end up doing more damage."

Rushton said he looks for symptoms like Benji’s, including coughing and trouble breathing. Wilson-McDowell said Benji’s diagnosis was “acute respiratory distress syndrome.”

Dr. Brian Bailey of Three Rivers Medical Center said the H1N1 strain is more virulent and makes people sicker.

“You have more pneumonia associated with that particular virus,” Bailey said. “It seems to target pregnant women, younger and older people."

Wilson-McDowell said she’s heartbroken, but she’s trying to be strong for their daughter, who is five months old. She said Benji did not get a flu shot this year and never has.

“It’s going to be up to the individual whether they get the flu vaccine or not,” she said. “I'm not going to recommend it either way.”

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