Have you ever had the flu?

Unless you’re one lucky duck, you surely have.

We all have.

Which is why it’s so surprising when you hear a breaking story on the news about the number of people who have died of the influenza virus during the current season.

Of course, the flu is an uncomfortable, unpleasant nuisance. We can all agree on that.

But deadly?

The truth is, between 290,000 and 650,000 die annually from this commonplace virus. In the US alone, 900,000 people were hospitalized with theinfluenza virus last year and 80,000 lost their lives.

The question then becomes: who is most at risk of death from the flu? And how can we prevent it? Let’s find out.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Death?

As with most (but not all) illnesses, those most at risk are infants and the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 58 percent of last year’s flu-related hospitalizations were of people over the age of 65 years. Tragically, a record-breaking 184 children and infants died, as well.While pediatric and geriatric cases account for the majority of flu-related deaths, young and middle-aged adults are at risk, too.

For instance, Alani Murrieta, a seemingly healthy mother of two, was reported to have died of the influenza virus in November 2017. Just two days after beginning to feel sick with the flu, this kind-hearted 20-year-old passed away.

Unfortunately, Alani’s case of the flu progressed extremely quickly and developed into pneumonia. Despite diligent life-saving efforts from healthcare personnel, Alani’s heart stopped.

Alani’s story is a harsh wake-up call that the influenza virus is a very real danger. Indeed, the influenza virus is a threat we must take seriously as soon as symptoms are noticed. In particular, pregnant women and anyone with chronic health conditions such as asthma or heart and lung disease are at greater risk of suffering from a bad case of the flu.

When Does the Flu Become Dangerous?

In a world with easy access to preventative measures such as flu vaccinations, sanitizers, and infection control, why are so many people still dying of the flu?

There is no single answer due to the very nature of influenza. The flu often causes  a number of complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues, and even organ failure. Also, infection of the respiratory tract can trigger severe inflammation, which can lead to sepsis.

If the flu begins to take on a more sinister form, you may notice worsening of symptoms in several body symptoms.

For example, children with a worsening case of the influenza virus may struggle to breathe, have difficulty waking from sleep, or develop a fever with a rash. Adults may experience delirium, difficulty breathing, severe or persistent vomiting, or sudden dizziness.

As Alani’s tragic case teaches us, the flu can progress rapidly, which is why it’s crucial to pay close attention to influenza symptoms, seek medical attention right away, and ensure symptoms are improving.

How to Stop the Spread of the Flu

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce your chances of catching the influenza virus and to prevent it from spreading to your loved ones.

Good Hygiene

During the flu season, take special care to wash your hands any time you touch public surfaces, especially in your place of work. Oftentimes we don’t think of our workplaces as “public” because we’re so comfortable in them. However, the interoffice spread of illness is extremely common.

Also, remember to wash your hands before you eat, drink, or touch your face, and after covering your mouth or nose to cough or sneeze. If anyone you know is infected with the flu virus, avoid close contact and wash up after visiting with him or her.

Teach your kids these healthy habits, as well, to keep your whole family safe from influenza.

Vaccination

According to the CDC, healthy adults, children, and infants over the age of six months should get an annual flu shot – ideally in October or earlier.

However, there are a few exceptions – such as newborns and anyone with allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine, like gelatin or antibiotics – so be sure to consult with your doctor before getting a flu shot.

The influenza virus evolves every year and several different strains of flu are active at any given time. Researchers have designed the flu vaccine to protect against the most severe strains of the virus that will be most prevalent in the coming season.

While getting the flu shot does not guarantee that you won’t get the flu, data shows that receiving the vaccine reduces the impact of the virus on your body and reduces your risk of hospitalization or death. In fact, people who get the flu vaccine are 40 to 60 percent less likely to have to see a doctor for the flu.  

Another benefit of the flu shot is that reduces the risk of you passing the influenza virus to someone who is more at-risk, like infants and the elderly. By getting the flu vaccine each year, you’re also protecting Grandma and all the little ones you’ll hug throughout the season.

A Protective Mother

Although infants under the age of six months are high risk, they are unable to receive the vaccine. However, studies show that if a healthy mother receives the flu vaccination during pregnancy, her baby is more likely to be protected after birth for several months.

Mothers who are breastfeeding and receive the flu shot may also pass immunity to their infants through breastmilk.

Because infants are at greater risk of suffering the worst of influenza symptoms, people who live with and care for babies should receive the flu vaccine to help prevent the spread of the flu to any children. If an infant starts to show signs of the flu – such as lethargy, cough, fever, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting, or diarrhea – caregivers must seek medical attention immediately.  

If you do happen to catch the influenza virus, don’t dismiss it as something you can just “ride out.” Take it seriously and seek medical attention.

Have you ever experienced complications due to the flu? Did it surprise you? Let us know in the comments below.