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Killer Illness Baffles

Mystery deepens over killer illness striking Houston: Doctors wonder if it's a new super flu

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Odessa Reed mother of man who died from mysterious illness in Montgomery County
Odessa Reed watched her son die in a matter of days from an illness that started with flu-like symptoms. Photo courtesy of KHOU Houston Channel 11/Family photoU
Conroe Regional Medical Center at night where flu-like illnesses are being treated December 2013
Of the eight reported patients seen at Conroe Regional Medical Center, four have died. Photo courtesy of KHOU Houston Channel 11/Family photo
Dathany Reed died from mysterious illness in Montgomery County December 2013
Dathany Reed, 41, died as his kidneys and other organs failed. Photo courtesy of KHOU Houston Channel 11/Family photoU
Odessa Reed mother of man who died from mysterious illness in Montgomery County
Conroe Regional Medical Center at night where flu-like illnesses are being treated December 2013
Dathany Reed died from mysterious illness in Montgomery County December 2013

Montgomery County officials are on high alert as a mysterious and fatal flu-like illness continues to baffle doctors. Of the eight reported cases seen at the Conroe Regional Medical Center, four patients aged from 41 to 65 have died and two others are struggling for their lives.

Health department representatives tell CultureMap that no diagnosis has been made for an unknown illness that begins with symptoms resembling the flu. In a matter of weeks or even days, however, victims develop serious complications including organ failure.

So far all patients have tested negative for influenza, although health professionals are awaiting further lab results.

"The big worry about a situation like this is, ‘Could this be a novel flu of some sort?’ " 

"The big worry about a situation like this is, ‘Could this be a novel flu of some sort?' " Dr. Mark Escott with the Montgomery County Public Health District tells KHOU Ch. 11. "It could certainly be lots of other viruses or other diseases, but that is the big concern."

While flu season has yet to reach its peak, particularly high-intensity strains are gripping nearly every region of the state, according to Christine Mann with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

She stresses to CultureMap that many rapid diagnostic flu tests popular in hospital settings are not as reliable and thorough as lab testing. During the so-called "swine flu" pandemic in 2009, for example rapid tests often failed to detect stains of the potent H1N1 virus.

Montgomery County health officials confirmed for KHOU on Tuesday that investigators are looking at cases from other hospitals that may be connected to the mystery illness.

The Youngest Victim

On Thanksgiving, 41-year-old Dathany Reed went to Conroe Regional Medical Center with flu-like symptoms and returned home with several prescriptions.

Reed's mother Odessa tells KHOU that the father of three checked into the emergency room the following day. He died less than a week later after his kidneys and other organs began to fail.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Odessa Reed says. “How can you talk to a person one day, and they say, I’m not feeling good, and the next day, that person is on life support?”

Watch the full KHOU Ch. 11 report:

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