Respiratory illness can make flu more deadly

By Sara Story - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Doctors are still waiting to find out if a Tyler boy who died this week had the H1N1 virus.

Just two days ago, when Montrell Harris died a flu-related death. Doctors told us they were 90-percent sure H1N1, coupled with Montrell's respiratory illness led to his death.

"He was coughing real bad and wheezing like always," said Annie Hardin, the aunt of Montrell Harris.

Family members say the boy lived with chronic asthma.

"He didn't let asthma get him down," said Hardin. "That was one of his problems. He wouldn't sit still."

And, Dr. James Stocks, a pulminologist at UT Health Science Center, says asthmatics like Montrell run into trouble when catching viruses like the flu.

"It may take very little to push them over the edge beyond what they can handle in terms of breathing for themselves," said Stocks.

He says patients with asthma have chronically inflamed airways.

"So instead of breathing through a nice wide open airway, when you have an asthma attack, you breath through a too small of a hole," said Stocks.

It becomes an even bigger problem if with the flu.

"When you put further inflammation into the airway, the airway swells up becomes even more narrow and more susceptible to any additional insult that would shut it down," said Stocks.

This flu season, doctors stress the importance of following maintenance therapy exactly as prescribed, even if you don't think you can afford it.

"There are ways to get maintenance medications through the pharmaceutical companies themselves," said Stocks. "They all offer help to people who can't afford it."

And, if you do come down with the flu, Dr. Stocks says don't panic. But, do pay close attention and if breathing gets really hard, see the doctor. Whether or not you have a respiratory illness, health officials stress the importance of washing hands and getting the seasonal flu shot as soon as possible.

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