Why Does the Flu Kill Some People So Quickly?

As the U.S. 2020-2021 flu season rolls in to meet the on-going  COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations all over the world are predicting increased illness attributed to the flu season reaching its peak as increased cases of COVID-19 are also expected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks influenza related deaths but does not only base these numbers on death certificates that state ‘influenza’ as the official cause of death. They are aware that the flu virus may contribute to other causes of death such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pneumonia.

In past flu seasons, doctors’ offices, hospitals, primary medical care centers, and urgent care clinics all over the United States have seen patients with severe and life-threatening complications from influenza viruses. Otherwise healthy adults and children have succumbed to their symptoms and have died quickly, often within 48 hours of showing symptoms.

So how exactly does the flu virus lead to mortality so quickly? A NBCNews.com article lists three main reasons: “Co-infection with another germ, usually bacteria such as strep; aggravation of existing conditions such as heart disease and asthma; and a so- called Cytokine Storm, marked by an overwhelming immune system response to infection.”

A December 2017 article in Scientific American explains that it is often the body’s own defenses against infectious diseases that often overreact, leading to death. Secondary infections are also blamed for many flu related deaths as they take advantage of the body’s weakened immune system due to the flu. These secondary infections can lead to sepsis or pneumonia, as well as damage to major internal organs.

Health officials encourage Americans to get the flu shot as it may provide some protection against the flu or at least minimize its effects. The World Health Organization lists those greatest at risk for developing complications from the flu as, young children between 6 and 59 months, those over 65 years, pregnant women, healthcare workers, and people with certain medical conditions  such as asthma, heart and lung diseases, as well as HIV / AIDS.

The CDC reports that flu activity tends to peak between December and February and can last through May. So, if you have not yet been vaccinated for the flu, see your healthcare provider now. To schedule an appointment for your flu shot or for an annual physical at any of our convenient Primary Medical Care Center community clinics, you may visit our website at www.primarymed.com, or call (305)751-1500 for our Miami-Dade clinic, or (954)289-0000 for our Broward clinic.