What are the underlying medical conditions that can raise dire consequences?

Almost without fail, news reports concerning a H1N1 virus-related death include the notation that the infected individual had “underlying medical conditions” which figured into the disease’s dire outcome.

But what exactly does that all-too-common phrasing mean in regard to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as “swine flu?” What are the most common underlying medical conditions?

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said the terminology refers to those conditions which are known to be risk factors for severe influenza infection. In other words, individuals with these conditions are more likely to get severe disease when infected with influenza than those who do not have conditions.

Asthma, chronic pulmonary lung disease, pregnancy, diabetes and other immune-suppressing illnesses are considered “underlying medical conditions” that may contribute to H1N1 becoming fatal. Dr. Kahn said anyone with a medical condition such as those should get both the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines.

“People with other health problems such as asthma or cancer are simply more vulnerable,” he said. “Why otherwise healthy people get very ill remains unclear, but it could be that some people have a genetic susceptibility to this virus.”

Visit www.utsouthwestern.org/infectiousdiseases to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services for infectious diseases.

Media Contact: Kristen Holland Shear

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