When the Flu Turns Deadly

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2017 | Medical Malpractice

Most people who get the flu have no real problems. They run a fever, have a dry cough, and feel pretty lousy for a few days, then they get better. However, that is not the case for everyone. For years the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided a single figure statistic of 36,000 flu related deaths per year in the United States. However, recently they have determined that this is not an accurate representation because flu seasons vary in severity and length. This impacts not only how many flu related deaths occur in a single season, but also the actual number of flu cases. To accommodate these fluctuations, the CDC now recommends using a range with a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000 for flu related death statistics.

While the CDC does monitor influenza, it is usually difficult to get an exact number of flu related deaths each year due to the following factors:

  • There is no state mandate requiring the reporting of seasonal flu cases or related deaths of adults over the age of 18 (children do have to be reported)
  • Influenza is not often listed as cause of death on death certificates of people who die from complications of the flu
  • Flu related deaths often occur up to two weeks after the person was initially infected and they may have developed a secondary, related infection or the flu exacerbated an existing chronic condition such as COPD or congestive heart failure
  • Many people who have the flu aren’t tested for it and by the time they seek medical care or the condition has become life threatening, the virus cannot be detected by nasal swabs

This highlights a very important message. Even if you have had the flu in the past and had no complications, it is still possible to get it again or get a different strain and have problems. The flu isn’t like chicken pox; you don’t develop a natural immunity to if once you’ve had it.

Common Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms can often mimic the symptoms of other conditions like cold or even a sinus infection. It often starts with a fever, although not everyone with the flu will have a fever. They may also experience chills, muscle aches, body aches, and extreme fatigue. A dry cough is also a hallmark symptom, along with a sore throat and a stuffy, runny nose. Many people with the flu also complain of headaches, ranging from mildly irritating to excruciating. Some people also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, although this tends to be more common in children.

It is also possible to pass the flu on to others before you even know you are sick. In most healthy adults, the period of contagion is 1 day before the symptoms start and can go as long as 7 days after you become sick. People who have weakened immune systems as well as children may be contagious for an even longer period of time. Most people experience flu symptoms for an average of 2 days. However, it can run between 1 and 4 days.

Complications from the Flu and When to Call the Doctor

Most people get the flu, it runs its course, and all is well. There are some people, though, who experience complications of the flu. This can include sinus infections, ear infections, bacterial pneumonia, and dehydration. It can also cause chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, COPD, and heart failure to become worse. Children are more susceptible to flu-related complications, particularly those under five years of age. According to the CDC, around 20,000 children in that age group are hospitalized each year for complications relating to the flu.

There are certain symptoms that indicate there may be a problem. Seek immediate medical attention if you see any of these symptoms:

  • Children
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Rapid breathing
    • Fever with rash
    • Inability to wake up or extreme difficulty waking up
    • Bluish tint to skin
    • Not interacting
    • Dehydration or not drinking enough fluids
    • Flu symptoms subside and the child seems to get better, but then the flu symptoms return with fever and cough is worse
  • Adults
    • Shortness of breath
    • Breathing difficulty
    • Pressure or pain in the chest or abdomen
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness that comes on suddenly
    • Persistent or severe vomiting
    • Flu symptoms subside and the adult seems to get better, but then the flu symptoms return with fever and cough is worse

When you feel flu symptoms coming on, especially if you are in a high risk category, see your doctor and follow his or her instructions to the letter. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above or if something just doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and see your doctor. At Kaire & Heffernan we help people every day who are dealing with improper medical discharge and wrong diagnosis. We can help you. If you need legal advice or assistance, give us a call today.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.