Mystery surrounds flu-like illness that has killed 4 in Texas
Local, state and CDC officials are monitoring the total of eight cases that have turned up so far
HOUSTON, Texas — Dathany Reed had flu-like symptoms when he was admitted in late November to Conroe Regional Medical Center. Hours later, he was on life support.
And to this day, his death remains a mystery.
So do six other recent cases at the hospital in Montgomery County, including three additional deaths. All had flu-like symptoms. And on Wednesday, doctors said an eighth patient with similar symptoms was diagnosed with what was once known as swine flu but categorized as H1N1. This variation of the strain first appeared in 2009.
Results from advanced testing on the other cases is expected by the weekend.
Odessa Reed said her son, who was the father of three children, had been "full of energy and life" until he stayed home from his job at the Golden Corral restaurant on Thanksgiving Day with what he thought was a common cold.
A doctor wrote prescriptions which would have cost him $200 so he decided not to fill them and let the illness run its course. The next day he was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Conroe Regional Medical Center, where doctors were amazed to find his lungs filling with blood and his organs disintegrating, his mother said.
"The staff shared with us that this was happening to others, too. We didn't know what to think," Odessa Reed said Wednesday, her voice strained. "He had his 41st birthday while on life support. It was very strange. It happened so quickly."
In all of the eight cases, initial testing - called rapid diagnostic influenza test - showed negative results for influenza.
Further testing showed that one patient had the H1N1 virus, a subtype of influenza A. Two tested negative for all known flu strains. Culture tests are pending for the other patient still hospitalized, as well as all four who died.
None of the four who died had gotten a flu shot, hospital officials said.
Montgomery County Public Health spokeswoman Jennifer Nichols Contella said privacy issues prevented her for naming any of the eight patients, but she did give their ages as 41 to 68.
County health officials, Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring the cases.
Flu shot covers H1N1
Montgomery County public health officials said they are expecting more H1N1 cases and are urging residents to get a flu shot, which covers the virus.
In Harris County, Public Health and Environmental Services spokeswoman Rita Obey said cases of the H1N1 virus have been reported this flu season, which began in September. She said the reports are consistent with state and national trends showing H1N1 as the most prevalent flu strain so far.
Influenza is reported by physicians and hospitals on a voluntary basis - only pediatric cases are reportable by law - making it difficult to calculate official numbers of cases, Obey said. However, she said a check of local hospitals shows they are seeing increased activity of flu and flu-like illness.
The CDC reported in the first week of December that of the 395 influenza A cases that were sub-typed, or further tested, about 97 percent were found to be a strain of H1N1 virus first diagnosed in 2009.
For the same week in Texas, of the 44 reported cases of influenza A, 91 percent were found to be H1N1, according to the Department of State Health Services.
People should not be extraordinarily worried about H1N1 because it isn't a new virus, said Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.
"It's not surprising that this is what this person tested for," Troisi said, referring to the person diagnosed at Conroe Regional Medical Center.
The cases in Conroe come months after another series of mystery deaths in nearby Liberty County.
Janie Budro is still waiting for officials to identify the mystery illness that claimed the life of her son, Tyler, on March 10, and that of Katie Rios of Kingwood Park High School on April 29. Both were 17.
A third suspected case in that cluster - a 17-year-old Montgomery County student from New Caney - was eliminated when his death was linked to a form of lymphoma, Budro said.
Moms still in the dark
"But I just talked to Katie's mom last week and we both still don't know what killed our kids," Budro said. "She only knows that her daughter's brain swelling led to her death, but not what caused it to happen, And I still have no answers for my son."
Both teenagers exhibited flu-like symptoms that rapidly progressed to seizures and then death.
Odessa Reed said her son never experienced any seizures, and Montgomery County health authorities said they don't believe the cases are linked.
"It's scary to know that this there's other clusters out there like this," said Budro. "I can't help wondering if there might still be some connection there, somehow. I freak out now if my only other son, who's 16, gets a cold."
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