Tennessee is one of a dozen states reporting a high number of flu-like illnesses. The elderly and children are usually the most at risk of being hospitalized, but doctors are surprised at the number of healthy young adults with severe complications from the flu.
Three patients at Cookeville Regional Medical Center have died from the flu, including two in their 30s.
“We’re seeing greater numbers, but we’re seeing more significant illness too. Particularly in younger adults than you would typically think of,” says Dr. Sullivan Smith, who heads the hospital’s emergency department. Smith says the H1N1 strain hits young people harder, with patients showing up at the emergency room sicker than in past flu seasons. He says his hospital has seen an increase in the number of people getting the flu vaccine, since word has spread that two in their 30s died from the illness.
“This is a strain that likes to attack children and particularly young adults admitted to the hospital with very serious influenza, so this is going to be on the more severe side,” Vanderbilt flu expert Dr. William Schaffner tells WSMV.
Cookeville Regional and other hospitals have put restrictions on visitors, and are asking anyone who coughs or sneezes to put on a mask. Many county health departments, including Nashville’s, are offering the flu shot for free.