Flu season: 3 deaths reported at UVA Medical Center

An already bad flu season has turned worse with three flu-related deaths reported at UVA Medical Center.

One of those was well-regarded architectural photographer Philip Beaurline, who died January 18 at age 59.

The virus hit hard in early December, when St. Anne's-Belfield shuttered its upper school and Jack Jouett Middle School reported 80 students out that same week.

Since December 1, UVA Medical Center has had 305 confirmed cases of the flu, according to spokesperson Eric Swensen. One of the three flu-related deaths transferred from another facility.

Martha Jefferson's two emergency departments have seen a total of 63 patients who have presented with “flu-like symptoms,” says spokesperson Jenn Downs. "We are unable to determine flu-related deaths."

The flu season runs from October through May, and even in week six of "widespread activity," Stuart Hutter, an epidemiologist with the Thomas Jefferson Health District, advises, "We still recommend a flu shot."

It turns out the Virginia Department of Health doesn't track flu-related deaths unless it's someone under 18 years old, says Hutter.

"You don't die from the influenza virus," Hutter points out. "You die from pneumonia or a secondary infection."

That's what happened to Beaurline, who contracted the H1N1 virus, according to his friend, Rebecca Foster. "It's not clear where he got it," she says. "Of all the flus, that one gets into the lungs the fastest."

The flu progressed to pneumonia, says Foster. Beaurline was sick at home for five days with what seemed like a manageable bad flu– until he started having trouble breathing and decided to see a doctor.

"Then it was so bad that he was taken to the ER instead," says Foster in an email. "He was immediately taken to intensive care, where every intervention and test and round-the-clock monitoring was administered. His organs started failing due to lack of oxygen and one problem led to the next in a rapid cascade."

Beaurline died after five days in intensive care, and leaves a wife, a son, and a wide circle of friends still in shock.

"It makes no sense at all," says Foster. "There was apparently no way to predict this kind of death."