It started with a fever, vomiting and respiratory infection in early August. The next thing Wichita attorney Jason Lane remembers is waking up in the hospital a month later. "I couldn't walk. I couldn't move," said the 27-year-old, who was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus after he was hospitalized at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis Campus.
Lane survived and returned to work two weeks ago, but said he's still recovering his lung capacity and muscle strength.
One of Lane's doctors, Hewitt Goodpasture, said his immune system crashed on him, causing multiple organ failures.
"What concerns me about this (flu) is it's doing something to the immune systems of young people that is causing a more serious reaction," said Goodpasture, who has specialized in infectious diseases for more than three decades. He said the severity of Lane's case is rare.
State health officials gathered at Via Christi on Tuesday to show off the first health professionals receiving H1N1 vaccines and to encourage others to get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of the virus.
But when vaccines will be offered to the public is uncertain. All Kansans who want an H1N1 vaccine should be able to get one by the end of winter, said Kansas State Health Officer Jason Eberhart-Phillips.
The first vaccines arrived in Sedgwick County this week, and all of the more than 2,700 doses of nasal spray are dedicated to health care professionals.
The next shipment of 6,000 vaccines, including the first injections, should be in Kansas this week. They will also be distributed to health workers.
Wichita hospitals have reported about a 20 percent increase in all flu patients this year.
But as millions more H1N1 vaccines become available nationwide, Goodpasture said those most vulnerable to the virus might be the toughest customers.
"We're not used to targeting young people," he said. "We'll have to sell them on it."
Children hit harder
Young children have had the most severe cases of H1N1, with hospitalization rates higher than expected with seasonal flu, state health officials said.
Children have only in the past decade been included as priorities in seasonal flu vaccination, with the elderly causing the main concern, Goodpasture said.
"For this flu, the seriousness of the disease in kids is much different," he said.
In fact, people over 60 tend to have more immunity to the H1N1 virus, which experts said is probably due to an exposure to a similar virus earlier in their lives.
After health care workers have received vaccines, those 6 months to 24 years will be the top priority, along with pregnant women.
Pregnant women by far have the highest death rate — about 30 percent — among people who are hospitalized for the virus, Goodpasture said.
Patients can be reluctant to take vaccines during pregnancy, medical experts said, but the injected vaccine is safer than risking a serious case of the flu.
The nasal spray form of the vaccine, which contains an altered form of the live virus, hasn't been approved for pregnant women.
Several local physicians have called Goodpasture to ask him whether to recommend the vaccine to patients.
"I'm telling them I would," he said. "Vaccines can have side effects, but the disease has side effect too. I have no hesitancy taking it myself or my family members and grandkids taking it."
He said he didn't receive a vaccine with other health professionals Tuesday because the nasal spray hasn't been approved for his older age group.
Vaccines stimulate the immune system so it knows how to protect the body when it's exposed to the real disease, Goodpasture said. Activating the immune system carries a risk of side effects similar to the virus, he said.
With the H1N1 vaccine, Goodpasture said the evidence points to the risk of the vaccine side effects is much smaller than that of the virus.
The swine flu vaccine hasn't been rushed through the testing process, state health officials said Tuesday.
"It was developed using the same technology as the seasonal flu shot," which has been under study and improved upon for decades, said health officer Eberhart-Phillips.
The H1N1 virus will likely be included in next year's seasonal flu shot, he said.
Clinics in schools
Schools could start receiving vaccines by the end of the month, Eberhart-Phillips said.
About 80 percent of schools in Sedgwick County agreed to hold vaccination clinics.
Wichita schools should start clinics as soon as they get their first vaccines, said Kathy Hubka, health services coordinator for the district.
Each school will have a clinic, and the district will try to schedule clinics at schools located close together in the same week, she said.
The schools will probably give only one H1N1 vaccination per student, but national guidelines state children under 10 should have a follow-up vaccination a month later.
Hubka said families will be encouraged to take their students to a public clinic or family doctor to get the second vaccination.
School nurses are seeing a number of school absences similar to seasonal flu — but it's not flu season, Hubka said.
She said the largest problem is that parents aren't keeping children home until they have been free of fever for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.
"When parents do send them back too soon, it slows their recovery, and they can have a more severe relapse," Hubka said.
'Don't wait' for treatment
Lane, the attorney who had the severe case of H1N1, said he appeared on his way to improving before losing a month of his life to a hospitalization that required strong sedatives.
His wife, Staci Lane, said what others should know about H1N1 is to trust instincts in deciding whether someone needs to go to the doctor or hospital.
She said a family physician said to wait and see what happened with his illness, but he had deteriorated so fast by the end of the week that she took him to the hospital.
"Don't wait," Staci Lane said. "I wish we had taken him sooner."