Flu: Targeting the Healthy

FRESNO, Calif.

Jason Martin's journal details the 20 days he spent in the ICU. He was hit hard by H1N1.

"I was vomiting constantly and had a really high fever," Martin told Ivanhoe. "I guess maybe because I'm a big guy, they just threw any drugs."

Before Martin, this strain killed nine people on the same floor. Doctors knew the very young and very old were at risk, but what happened to the ones in-between?

"We've never understood why such healthy people would have such bad disease," John Williams, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatric infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Williams says these people were killed by their own immune system. A blood protein called complement attaches to germs and helps signal the body to target those germs. Adults who died of H1N1 had high levels of complement in their lungs.

"It sort of stuck in the lungs. It signaled, like calling a five alarm fire, when really you only have a small fire on the stove," Dr. Williams said.

Doctors do know most of the people who died were not vaccinated. But even if you are,immunologists at Johns Hopkins say women may fight-off the virus better than men.

"When the immune system of a woman sees a vaccine, their immune system mounts a much higher response," Sabra Klein, Ph.D., an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told Ivanhoe.

Martin says he won't take any chances. He's much happier as a visitor than a patient.

If you've heard rumors about Tylenol making you more susceptible to the flu, don't pay any attention. At least one study shows Tylenol has no effect on the response of standard flu vaccine.

Craig Boerner
Vanderbilt University Medical Center National News Director

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.