Young, elderly hit hard by H1N1 virus

LOS ANGELES Tiffany Lee, 16, fits the profile of the typical H1N1 patient who ends up in the hospital -- young and otherwise healthy. She spent three months in ICU on a ventilator.

"It was definitely a surprise," said Lee. "I did not expect to get that sick."

"We actually found that over 30 percent of the patients who were admitted and hospitalized required intensive care and mechanical ventilation and over 10 percent died," said Dr. Janice K. Louie from the California Department of Public Health.

The H1N1 flu virus hit California first and fast. Back in April the California Department of Public Health began looking at who was affected and just how sick they became.

And although the H1N1 virus has been called "a young person's disease," California health officials say that the elderly are not immune.

"There is a perception that the elderly are protected and have some pre-existing immunity when in fact in our study, if the elderly were admitted and severely ill they often ended up dying," said Dr. Louie.

The report in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 1,080 Californian swine flu patients that were hospitalized or died from April to August of this year. Even though the study reveals the elderly are impacted by the H1N1 virus health officials say that doesn't mean seniors are a high risk group.

"Sure the elderly are getting the disease, but they are not getting it to the extent that they are getting the seasonal flu," said L.A. County Director of Public Health Jonathan Fielding. We want everyone to get this vaccine."

Dr. Fielding says the elderly should get the H1N1 vaccine when more becomes available.

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