Flu season taking its toll - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Flu season taking its toll

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Jeffrey Smith is happy he is able to meet his brother for lunch.  One month ago the 45-year-old put off going to the doctor for a chest cold. By the time he did go to the hospital he was a very sick man.

"They wanted to check me in over night as a patient and I didn't have time for that, so I checked myself out and had my younger brother take me home. And on the way he told me some of the symptoms the doctors described to him that I was not aware of and made me aware that it probably was more serious than I thought," Smith said. So Smith returned to Fletcher Allen Health Care that night and was admitted.

Reporter Judy Simpson: And its a good thing you did.

Jeffrey Smith: Very much so -- I learned later that I had full blown pneumonia and H1N1 flu virus, which probably would not have let me last through the night.

Smith was in the hospital for almost a month.

Reporter Judy Simpson: So you went into the hospital January 6th. What is the next thing that you remember?"

Jeffrey Smith: I woke up around the 17th of January. The doctors had told me that they had to induce a coma and put me on a respirator in order to essentially dry out my lungs from the symptoms of pneumonia -- and it was probably the worse case they had ever seen.

Doctors told Jeffrey's family he had about a one in five chance of surviving. While Smith's was an extreme case, the H1N1 virus is hitting younger people hard this year. "H1N1 -- which is the predominant flu virus circulating this season and has been the last couple of years -- does make younger people especially really sick, so people in their 20's 30's or 40's who are otherwise healthy can get H1N1 and get pretty sick. It's also especially risky for pregnant women," said The Vermont Health Department's Patsy  Kelso.

Health authorities say we are in the height of flu season. Not only are they seeing the H1N1 virus, but they are also seeing the Norovirus, which is a nasty stomach bug that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. "Norovirus circulates this time of year. Every year it can go through schools or child care facilities or long term care facilities and causes outbreaks where lots of people get it," Kelso said. "It can go through households pretty quickly and we do see it every year -- unfortunately it's pretty common."

There is no vaccine for Norovirus. The best prevention is to wash your hands a lot, especially before handling food.  But it's still not too late to get vaccinated for the H1N1 flu -- something Smith says he will now do every year.  "I will during the cold and flu season. I will definitely get a flu shot from now on," he said.

And there is still plenty of vaccine available. Kelso says flu season could last another two to three months.

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