Doctors See Increase in Dangerous Flu Cases at UIHC

By Mark Carlson, Reporter

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By Kelli Sutterman

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Doctors at UIHC are dealing with more dangerous flu cases in recent weeks than normal.

“(Flu season) is during the winter months in this part of the world,” said Doctor William Lynch. “It goes right up to February, March, and April sometimes.”

The Centers for Disease Control in Iowa reported widespread flu activity in the state. Data shows the surge in cases started in mid-February. Doctors believe more young people are getting the flu this year because they are less likely to get the flu shot.

“I’ve never had a flu shot, and I never thought that I would get that sick,” said Jennifer Kent, 29, of Burlington. Kent left the hospital Tuesday afternoon, after a one week stay in Iowa City.

“I had influenza B with pneumonia,” Kent said. “I almost died.”

Kent credits Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, for saving her life. It’s a treatment that is normally used to help infants breathe, but in recent years doctors have found a way to treat adults with the technology, Lynch said.

“We are getting busier and busier, so we are doing 20 adults or so a year, when five years ago, we weren’t doing any,” said Lynch.

UIHC is the only hospital in the state that offers such treatment for adults. Lynch said he’s a little surprised by the sudden increase in demand for ECMO, and said it is only used for those patients who are near death.

“Doctors basically told me that she is very sick and she’s got a very very low chance of surviving through the night,” said Shannon Kent, Jennifer’s husband. “I broke down and said lets do it, at least with ECMO she’ll have a 50 percent chance of surviving.”

The idea behind the machine is simple: It breathes so the patient doesn’t have to, therefore letting the lungs recover faster.

“It’s the same idea of breaking your leg and putting it in a cast,” said Lynch. “You don’t use your leg while it heels.”

But Lynch says the best way to avoid getting the flu, and potentially avoid ECMO, is through prevention. The Iowa Department of Public Health said this years flu vaccine fights all three strands of active influenza.

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