The death of a 43-year-old Omaha police officer Friday demonstrates how deadly a strain of the H1N1 influenza virus can be for younger adults, health officials say.
Greg Hamill, a 12-year veteran of the Omaha Police Department, died at Methodist Hospital after being admitted last week. His death was attributed to complications of H1N1, a pandemic strain that swept through the world in 2009.
Hamill “had a huge heart,” said Officer James Shade, a police spokesman. “He genuinely cared about people.”
His organs were retrieved on Friday.
Hamill was in an age group — those between the ages of 18 and 64 — that has experienced more deaths from flu this year than in previous years.
Prior to this flu season, young children and the elderly appeared to be more susceptible to influenza.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young and middle-aged adults made up 61 percent of influenza-related hospitalizations this flu season, compared to 35 percent the last three years. More deaths than usual occurred in that age group as a result, the CDC report said.
In Nebraska, about a dozen people have died of H1N1 from 2009 to the present, said Dr. Tom Safranek, Nebraska's state epidemiologist. The average age of the deceased was 59, Safranek said.
Iowa doesn't track its number of flu deaths until after the flu season, when death certificates are culled.
People with underlying health conditions are most susceptible to complications from influenza, Safranek said. Influenza can make those problems worse, and even cause death.
“It can manifest what was hidden,” Safranek said. “Someone might have had asymptomatic heart disease, and then they get influenza and see more health problems.”
Tuesday, a popular 55-year-old District 66 physical education teacher died of a heart attack following a bout with influenza B, a milder form of the illness.
The teacher, Jeff Nannen of Blair, Neb., was very fit before he fell ill, relatives said.
Dr. Marvin Bittner, infectious disease specialist with Alegent Creighton Clinic, said H1N1 and even influenza B could exacerbate an undiagnosed heart condition. He said studies in the United Kingdom show a correlation between the flu and heart disease.
“One could be related to the other,” Bittner said.
But even otherwise healthy adults can be hit hard by the flu, he said.
It's unclear whether Hamill or Nannen had underlying health problems.
The flu also can cause clotting, which can lead to strokes, and attack other organs, including the liver and kidneys, said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of Iowa's Public Health Department.
Health officials for years have advocated flu shots for small children, pregnant women and the elderly. But the recent illnesses of younger people led the CDC to recommend a flu vaccine for anyone 6 months or older. Even though there are only a few weeks left in the flu season, vaccines still are available, officials said.
Quinlisk said early symptoms of H1N1 include a fever, aches and pains and appetite loss. She said it usually hits quickly.
A fund for the Hamill family has been set up at the Omaha Police Federal Credit Union. Checks should be made out to the Greg Hamill Fund.
The credit union has offices at 3003 S. 82nd Ave. and 10791 S. 72nd St. in Papillion.