RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- The flu is hitting hard and hitting home this season. Health officials say emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths are all up this year.
Last year, there were no deaths related to the flu, but health officials say six people have died this year in Washoe County. Five have been placed in the Intensive Care Unit.
What is different about this year's flu season is that health officials say the predominate strain is the H1N1 virus, also known as the Swine Flu. This particular bug is making patients sicker, and it is unlike other flu strains that target the very young and old.
H1N1 targets children and pregnant women, as well as middle-aged, younger adults who tend to be healthy. Most of the deaths in Washoe County are people in their mid-30's.
Kim Neiman is the Director of Infection Prevention at Renown Health. She said it's important to know who it is targeting. "It's the kind of thing that people need to understand. This is important and it is hitting age groups that are slightly different than what we think it will hit."
Beside the numbers, the flu affects real people. Robin Smith remains on life support following her bout with the flu. It struck just before Thanksgiving, and as her daughter Kelsey Smith explains, this is something her family never imagined.
"I never expected it would happen this quick. It's something that she went in one day and they were telling us she'd be home at Thanksgiving."
But she is still not home. "She has been on a vent and life support for going on two months now, and she is having a very hard time fighting this."
One way to prevent the flu is through a flu shot and Kelsey says her mom did get one this year. But Kelsey suspects her mom's bout with Pneumonia last year may have weakened her mom's immune system.
Another way to offset the severity of the flu is to obtain medication, such as Tamiflu. But it must be taken within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. In Robin's case, Kelsey says the flu diagnosis simply came too late.
"She was diagnosed with the flu after it was too late to treat her for it, so she just had to let her body fight off the infection and it's been a really rough haul for her."
Kelsey says she will never again skip getting an annual flu shot, and she has this advice for others who come down with flu like symptoms. "You might think that you're being a hypocondriac by going to the doctor, but really just protect yourself.
As you can imagine, the medical expenses are enormous. Kelsey says it is up to $20,000 per day. There is a way you can help defray some of those costs through a fundraiser. If you would like to learn more about that, you can visit the fundraiser website here