Flu sufferer lucky to survive, say doctors

By Martin Johnston

Woman given 5% chance of life during three weeks in hospital.

Belinda van den Bos says she was run down and had no immunity when the flu virus hit. Photo / Richard Robinson
Belinda van den Bos says she was run down and had no immunity when the flu virus hit. Photo / Richard Robinson

An Auckland woman who spent more than three weeks in hospital with influenza is lucky to have survived, her doctors told her.

Belinda van den Bos was in an Auckland City Hospital intensive care unit for 12 days and in North Shore Hospital for 10 being treated for pneumonia that was a complication of influenza. The virus was the A (H1N1) strain which caused the pandemic in 2009 and 2010.

Even now, 10 days into her recuperation at home, the 54-year-old from Torbay on the North Shore is weak and breathless.

She is the first Aucklander to speak publicly of having caught influenza this year, although there has been at least one other hospitalised case in the region, according to ongoing results of flu research at Auckland and Middlemore hospitals.

Those cases have occurred among a series of unrelated flu clusters around the country which have been attributed to the 2009 pandemic virus. Influenza is mainly a disease of the winter and spring, but can occur at any time of year.

Mrs van den Bos, a senior manager at international accountancy firm Crowe Horwath, was so sick in hospital with acute respiratory distress syndrome that she was connected to an "ECMO" machine that adds oxygen to the blood outside the body. She was treated with antibiotics and anti-viral Tamiflu.

She was in a coma at Auckland Hospital and said her family were advised she was at high risk of dying.

"They gave me a 5 per cent chance of making it. If it was not for the doctors at the cardiothoracic and vascular ICU at Auckland Hospital and North Shore Hospital ICU, I would not be here today."

Mrs van den Bos was so ill that her 25-year-old son, who was in London, and her sister, in South Africa, flew to Auckland to be with her.

She had been unwell since late December, with back pain and feeling hot and cold, and later shortness of breath and a dry cough.

"I was run down and, by the time this virus hit, I had no immunity."

An accident and medical clinic put her on asthma medication, but that didn't help, and two days later her husband, Maarten, took her to North Shore Hospital. Tests indicated her lung capacity had fallen to just 5 per cent of normal.

Mrs van den Bos has an annual flu vaccine shot but became sick even though last year's dose covered the strain that infected her. Despite this, she advocates having the vaccine.

Clinical virologist Associate Professor Lance Jennings said United States data indicated the effectiveness of the 2013 influenza vaccine was 61 per cent when counted across all ages.

The vaccine was less effective in the elderly because of a declining immune system although vaccination was also associated with less-severe illness when a vaccinated person caught the flu. Immunity also waned over time, which was why annual vaccination was required.

Mrs van den Bos said her experience had taught her that if anyone had the flu symptoms, "they need to visit their doctor ASAP".

Protect yourself

• Wash and dry hands often.
• Stay away from people who are sick
• Stay away from work or school if unwell.
• Cover coughs and sneezes.

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- NZ Herald

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