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H1N1 targeting younger Utahns

MURRAY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - Remember the swine flu? It's back and proving deadly in Utah, unusually for younger people.
MURRAY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - Remember the swine flu? It's back and proving deadly in Utah.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has confirmed three H1N1-related deaths in Washington County, within the past two weeks. The unusual thing is all of the deaths happened to people under the age of 65.

This year, the flu is not just a danger for the very young and the very old. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of flu patients that end up in the hospital are between the ages of 18 and 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“We're seeing severe cases in younger people than we usually see them,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, M.D., University Hospital.

Medical experts theorize older people received immunity from when the H1N1 strain dominated in 2009.

“Older people, say over the age of 50 had previous immunity from when strains were circulating years ago and the people in their 20s never had that exposure, never developed that immunity so they’re being hit a little harder,” said Dr. Swaminathan.

This year in Utah, the flu has hospitalized 48 people-- some of whom are seemingly fit.

“We certainly see normal, healthy people getting severe flu,” said Dr. Edward Stenehjem M.D., Intermountain Medical Center.

Flu hospitalizations of healthy people usually stem from a lung infection, according to Dr. Stenehjem.

“Sometimes the H1N1 virus can cause the infection in the lung itself and cause severe pneumonia and in that case respiratory failure ensues,” he said. “Generally people when they die from H1N1,” said Dr. Stenehjem, “they can't get the oxygen to their body because of the damage in their lungs.”

Why the flu can lead to respiratory failure in one healthy person but not the next remains a medical mystery.

The good news is doctors say a trip to the hospital can be prevented with a flu shot. This year's vaccine includes the H1N1 strain. With flu season peaking in January and February, it's not too late to get one.

“If we're still seeing flu, you should get vaccinated if you haven’t,” said Dr. Stenehjem.

Experts say if you are going to get a shot, the sooner the better because the vaccine takes two weeks on average to take effect.

To find a Utah vaccination clinic near you, click here.

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