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H1N1 linked to six Duluth deaths, one in an otherwise healthy adult

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Pierce County Herald
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DULUTH, Minn. - "It's just unbelievable," said Debbie Walczynski of her son's improbable death last week after a bout with the H1N1 flu.

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Matthew James Walczynski, 32, of Duluth came home from work Nov. 6 running a fever of 103.8 degrees, and went straight to bed, according to his mother. Ten days later he was dead.

He's one of six people who have died in recent weeks in Duluth because of flu-related ailments, even as the number of reported flu patients nationwide has dropped.

And hospital officials say he is the only known adult Minnesotan to die from H1N1 complications that didn't have another underlying medical problem.

Five of the six who have died here were adults and one was a child. All the flu-associated deaths occurred in November and came a month after new flu cases peaked in the region and nationally.

"The majority have been in the 18 to 64 age group with chronic medical conditions," said Beth Johnson, a spokeswoman for SMDC: St. Mary's Medical Center, a Duluth hospital.

But Matthew Walczynski had no prior history of health problems, his mother said.

"It came on quickly," Debbie Walczynski said. "We tried all weekend to get his temperature down, but we never could."

Besides the fever, Matthew Walczynski also became congested and complained of aches.

On the evening of Nov. 10, Walczynski arrived at the SMDC emergency room and was admitted on the spot.

X-rays revealed Walczynski's lungs were severely congested, and his oxygen levels were dangerously low, prompting his transfer to SMDC's coronary intensive care unit on Nov. 11. There, he was placed on oxygen to improve his breathing. Walczynski also was diagnosed with a bacterial blood infection.

Three days later, a week after he came home sick, Walczynski was taken off oxygen and his X-rays seemed to show some clearing in his lungs. But on Nov. 16 his condition worsened.

"About halfway through the day it turned on him, and his heart gave out," Debbie Walczynski said.

Dr. Kevin Stephan, an infectious disease specialist at SMDC, said he has not heard of any other H1N1 death in the state involving an adult with no prior underlying medical issues that would place them at risk.

"It's an exceedingly rare occurrence that's highly unexpected," he said.

Through Nov. 14, the most recent statistics available Monday, there have been 26 confirmed H1N1-related deaths in Minnesota since the recent outbreak began in September, and another two deaths are probably from H1N1.

Through Nov. 14, 1,439 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed statewide. But because H1N1 novel is the only flu now common in the region, it's likely hundreds if not thousands more people had the flu.

The number of newly confirmed cases of H1N1 in Minnesota has crashed in recent weeks across the state, from 420 during the peak week in mid-October to fewer than 100 in the week ending Nov. 14. That number was expected to drop even more Tuesday in numbers to be released by the Minnesota Department of Health.

John Myers is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

News Tribune staff writer Peter Passi contributed to this report.

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