MT doctors see new influenza trend that could be deadly


We recently brought you the story of the Helena man still hospitalized after falling ill from H1N1 around Christmas-time.


Jim Stewart is the Helena man with H1N1 who has been hospitalized for more than six weeks at Benefis in Great Falls. He has spent time in intensive care, hooked up to a respirator, and nearly lost his life.


But infectious diseases specialist Donald Skillman, M.D., of St. Peter’s Medical Group, said that H1N1 isn’t particularly deadly.


“There are some strains that are vastly worse with a higher death rate for example, but we’re not seeing that with H1N1,” said Skillman.


It’s complications resulting from influenza that are of most concern. “The thing that kills people in an influenza epidemic is not so much the influenza virus, but that bacterial pneumonia that follows later,” he explained.


But there’s something strange that medical professionals are noticing.


“This year for the first time anybody can recall – I’ve spoken to my other infectious disease colleagues in the state – we’re seeing that bacterial pneumonia immediately on the heels of the influenza symptoms. There’s no delay, there’s no time gap between the flu symptoms and the bacterial pneumonia,” he said.


Of the more than 2,800 reported influenza cases across Montana, the MT Department of Health & Human Services estimates that more than 95% are the H1N1 strain. And across the state, influenza has resulted in more than 250 hospitalizations and 7 deaths.


But for Jim Stewart, there was another not so common complication. “He had renal failure early on so his kidneys went, which is something the H1N1 does,” said his wife, Jann Stewart.


But Skillman said that it isn’t typical,” No, kidney failure and kidney problems aren’t typically part of the influenza problem.”


However at the beginning of the year CBS Detroit reported on a H1N1 outbreak in Ann Arbor where many of the patients were experiencing kidney failure and received daily dialysis.


Jim has since regained kidney function and no longer needs dialysis, but his road to recovery is still long.


Jann said she usually declines the seasonal flu shot, but now that she nearly lost her husband, she’s changed her tune.


“I’m becoming very passionate about ‘please get your flu shot, please,'” she urges.


And Skillman says that it’s still not too late.


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