Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Former Ketchum resident dies from swine flu

Francine Rushton is 5th person in Utah to die from global epidemic

Express Staff Writer

Former Ketchum resident Francine Rushton, 47, died Saturday in Salt Lake City of complications from the H1N1 swine flu.

She was the fifth person to die of the new strain of flu in Utah, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. Utah had registered 688 confirmed cases of the flu, including the five fatal cases, as of June 12. Idaho had 29 confirmed cases with no reported deaths.

Rushton lived in Ketchum for seven years, working at Barry Peterson Jewelers and at Jane's Paper Place until moving to Salt Lake City three months ago.

According to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper, Rushton's mother, Kimberley Whitehead, tested positive at an urgent-care clinic on May 30 for Type A influenza, a strong indication of the presence of swine flu. Whitehead was administered the anti-viral agent Tamiflu and is reportedly recuperating.

Rushton, who was living with her mother, was also tested for swine flu but was told her results were negative. She was tested two more times at Jordan Valley Medical Center as her condition worsened, but each time she was told she tested negative for swine flu.

On June 9, Rushton was transferred to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, in critical condition. A day later she finally tested positive for Type A influenza. The following day further testing confirmed Rushton had the H1N1 swine flu, but it was too late to save her life.

"She came in with her lungs full of pneumonia," said her longtime partner Robert Smania, in an interview. "The lesson here is that doctors should rely less on testing and more on common sense."

Robert Rolfs, state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, told the Tribune that "depending on the test, depending on the situation, [the test] may miss half of the people who have it. So those tests are not perfect."

Utah has far more confirmed cases than most states in the region. It is the only Intermountain state to have fatalities linked to the flu.

Those most at risk for contracting a more severe case of H1N1 flu are children under age 2, adults 65 or older, pregnant women and people with underlying health concerns. The infection has been reported to cause a wide range of flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

The World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic last week, the first global flu epidemic in 41 years. Infections in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere have climbed to nearly 30,000 cases, including 144 deaths.

Currently, there are 17,855 documented cases of swine flu in the United States, with 45 deaths reported.

Tony Evans:

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