According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year’s flu season may be the worst in several years. Nearly all states are reporting high flu activity similar to that seen during the 2014-2015 season, the most severe in recent memory. In January 2017, only 12 states were reporting significant flu activity.
The Severity of This Flu Season
Hospitalizations and deaths from the flu also stand at a higher rate than typically seen at this time of year. Between October and December 2017, the hospitalization rate was approximately 14 per 100,000 population — compared to just five hospitalizations per 100,000 at the same time the prior year.
Despite the heavy promotion of flu shots each year, medical experts readily admit to the unpredictability of the timing and severity of the flu season. The dominant strain, H3N2, of the flu virus that is circulating this year tends to cause worse symptoms than other varieties of flu. Also, patients with H3N2 have higher rates of both hospitalization and death.
For people who become sick with the flu, getting appropriate treatment in a timely manner plays a critical role in recovery. When medical professionals fail to provide proper influenza treatment, serious complications can result.
Complications of Flu
As many as 20 percent of Americans become sick from the flu annually. Most people recover relatively quickly with rest and ample fluid intake. Some flu patients are not so fortunate, however. The CDC estimates that 3,000 to 49,000 people in the United States die every year from the flu. Around the world, up to a half million people may die from flu-related complications annually.
For high-risk individuals, complications from flu can become dangerous and even deadly. Serious complications include:
Pneumonia, a lung infection, can cause symptoms including fever, cough, chills and shaking. Pneumonia is especially dangerous for people in high-risk groups. Complications from pneumonia include bacteria in the bloodstream, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and buildup of fluid in and around the lungs.
Bronchitis occurs when mucous membranes inside the lungs’ bronchi become inflamed. Symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, mild fever, chills and fatigue. Left untreated, chronic cases of bronchitis can result in serious medical conditions including pulmonary hypertension, emphysema and heart failure.
Sinusitis is swelling in the sinuses that can cause a sore throat, post-nasal drip, pain in the teeth, upper jaw, and sinuses, cough, and nasal congestion. Additional symptoms — including mental confusion, severe headache, swelling of the forehead, vision changes, trouble breathing, and neck stiffness — can indicate that the condition has spread or has become worse.
Encephalitis, a rare condition, can occur when the flu virus enters brain tissue, resulting in inflammation of the brain. The inflammation can destroy nerve cells and can cause brain damage and bleeding in the brain. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting, severe headache, sensitivity to light, clumsiness, and drowsiness. The condition also can cause trouble with movement, tremors, hallucinations, seizures, paralysis, and problems with speech and hearing.
How Do People Die from Flu?
Many people fail to understand just how serious the flu can become if left untreated. Most deaths occur within at-risk populations — such as young children, adults over the age of 65, and individuals with chronic health conditions — but can happen to anyone under the right circumstances.
The flu can become deadly in several ways. The flu virus itself can cause such severe inflammation in the lungs that a patient dies from respiratory failure. In addition, the lungs can become so damaged by the virus that the patient’s blood receives too little oxygen.
In some cases of improper treatment of the flu, patients die of secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Individuals also can die from multiple organ failure.
Groups at High Risk of Flu Complications
Some groups of people are at higher risk from complications, including death, after improper treatment of flu. Children younger than 5 and people older than 65 are at high risk, along with children and teens under age 19 who are on aspirin therapy.
Alaskan Natives and Native Americans also are at elevated risk. In addition, individuals have higher risk when they suffer from medical conditions including heart and lung disorders, asthma, diseases affecting the liver and kidneys, endocrine and metabolic disorders, weakened immune system, blood disorders, pregnancy, neurological disorders, and morbid obesity.
People over age 65 constitute up to 70 percent of hospital visits related to flu, and they have the highest risk of complications and death related to the illness.
Proper Treatment of Flu Is Critical
In people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and asthma — and among members of other high-risk groups — getting proper influenza treatment plays a critical role in recovery. Even in individuals who are not in high-risk groups, a case of flu can become serious.
If you believe that your health or the health of a loved one has been harmed by a medical professional’s failure to treat flu properly, you may be entitled to compensation. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help protect your rights. For a free consultation, contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC today.