NEW ORLEANS -- Since 2009, it's becoming a more common infection we see in the community.
But now, the loss of a father from Boutte has doctors warning us why prevention is so important.
Yvonne Cantu never dreamed when her 46-year-old brother Nieves "Nev" Cantu went into the hospital in August, he'd be gone in a week. It's the second time her mother lost a son.
"She looked at my brother and my brother just kind of waved to her, and waved to her again, and that was the last time that she got any kind of response of him," remembers Yvonne Cantu, 45, of Kenner.
Her brother's wife and 15- and 22-year-old sons had all gotten sick. But Nev's progressed. Yvonne said the medical staff at Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner did not know what the infection was until the autopsy came on her birthday last week, Oct. 14.
It was H1N1, the strain of the flu originally called swine flu.
"It's very hard to read. It's just, it's not real," Yvonne said.
"The flu is a very serious infection. We know, every year in this country, 200,000 people are going to be hospitalized, approximately 35,000 deaths, but there are certain people who are going to experience complications," explained Dr. Fred Lopez, an internist at LSU Health Sciences Center with a specialty in infectious diseases.
Being diagnosed clinically as 'morbidly obese,' Nev was at higher risk for complications. His sister says despite his size, he got around very well without any assistance.
Health surveillance data do show that while cases are low now, there is flu, including the H1N1 strain, in Louisiana. This year the influenza vaccine can protect you against four strains, including H1N1.
"About one in every five people in United States is going to get infected with the flu each year. We know that the flu vaccine historically and in recent years, has been very well matched to the strains that we're going to see in the community," said Dr. Lopez.
"I talk to him every day and it still doesn't dawn on me that that's him in there," Yvonne said looking at her brother's urn of ashes in her home.
Flu shots are available now for everyone six months and older. Those at higher risk are the very young and old, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart, kidney, and lung patients, people who are obese, have asthma or diabetes.
You are contagious the day before you get sick and can unknowingly pass it on to someone who is at higher risk. That is why doctors urge even young healthy people to get the vaccine each year. You are also contagious for about a week after the symptoms start.
The flu is passed through coughing, sneezing droplets into the air and someone else breathing them in, or by touching a surface that someone with the flu has touched after getting fluids on his or her hands. It is then transmitted when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Because of privacy, Ochsner did not want to comment on this patient.
Editor's Note: Dr. Lopez did not treat Nev