She says bacterial pneumonia is the most common complication from the flu that leads to death.

“This happens because the flu virus injures the lungs and causes inflammation that then makes it easier for bacteria to invade the lungs and cause a very serious infection,” Bocchini told CBS News. “The bacterial infection can make it hard for children to breathe, and their lungs struggle to get enough oxygen for their body.”

Another complication that can lead to death is sepsis. This occurs when the body overreacts to an infection. Sepsis can affect multiple organ systems, sometimes causing organ failure and resulting in death.

Other rare complications from the flu that can be fatal include infection of the heart (or myocarditis), which can cause sudden death or heart failure, and infection of the brain (or encephalitis), which can lead to seizures and dangerous swelling of the brain.

Young children and older adults are most at risk for these complications, as well as pregnant women and anyone with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and neurologic conditions.

When to seek emergency medical attention

If the flu becomes severe, it’s important to seek medical attention right away to prevent further complications.

According to the CDC, emergency warning signs in children include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In teenagers and adults, warning signs can include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, confusion, dizziness, and severe or persistent vomiting.

If you or your child have these symptoms, it is important to get medical treatment right away.

How to protect your family

The best defense against the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot each year. If you or your child have not received the flu vaccine yet this year, experts say it is not too late. Flu season peaks in winter but can linger into the spring.

While the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, doctors say it does reduce the chances, and if you do get sick it may be less severe.

If you have a young child who develops flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches and fatigue, it is important to see your pediatrician to see if an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu (also available as generic oseltamivir), Relenza or Rapivab is needed.

Other steps the CDC recommends to prevent flu include:

  • Avoid close contact with others, including hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
  • Move away from people before coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects such as toys and doorknobs.

Why Do Some People Die From the Flu?

While the 2018–2019 flu season hasn’t been as dangerous as last year’s (so far), there’s still widespread flu activity across the country. This year’s vaccine looks to be more effective, but around 100,000 people have still been hospitalized with influenza, according to the CDC.

And yes, there are also deaths, including among adults and children who otherwise seemed healthy, sometimes shortly after developing symptoms, according to accounts from their families and health officials. Among eight flu-related deaths in San Diego, for example, was a 32-year-old man without any medical issues.

Last year, Michael Messenger, 12, died just days after a rapid flu test at an urgent care center came back negative. Katharine Gallagher, 27, died five days after leaving work early with flu symptoms, which progressed to severe acute bronchial pneumonia. It’s all more than a little frightening.

But what are your actual chances of dying from the flu—and how does it even happen? Health spoke to Pat Salber, MD, a former emergency room physician based in San Francisco and the founder of the blog The Doctor Weighs In to get answers.

What are the chances of dying from the flu?

The number of people who get sick with the flu, require hospitalization, or ultimately die from the virus changes annually depending on several factors, including which strain of the virus is dominant and the strength of that year’s vaccine. But the CDC estimates that between 12,000 and 56,000 flu-related deaths occur each year.

That’s still a relatively small number, considering that the number of flu cases in a given year can clock in at up to 60.8 million, according to the CDC. “In some of these pandemics, millions of people get infected, so death is relatively uncommon,” Dr. Salber says.

RELATED: 20 Surprising Ways to Prevent Colds and Flu

How does someone die from the flu?

Some victims may contract a second infection while already battling the flu, like pneumonia (an infection of the air sacs of the lungs), which can be severe enough to lead to organ failure and ultimately death, Dr. Salber says. The flu can be further complicated by sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection that happens when bacteria have entered the bloodstream.

Other people may die from the flu because their immune systems are already compromised by another illness. “Getting the flu can exacerbate conditions like diabetes, asthma, and chronic lung disease,” Dr. Salber explains. “If someone with diabetes has mild renal failure, gets the flu, doesn’t keep up with hydration—which makes renal function worse—and can’t fight off the flu infection as well because they already have a lowered immune response, they can start to spiral out of control.”

But even healthy people can die of the flu, as news reports of deaths among children often suggest. “Young kids who look really healthy may be getting overwhelmed by their own immune response,” Dr. Salber says. In some cases, the body may increase immune defenses so much that infection-fighting proteins build up in the blood and damage other organs. “For example, you can get this immune response in the lungs,” she says, which in turn makes it hard to breathe. “Kids complaining of shortness of breath is not regular with the flu.”

RELATED: Why Do Some People Die From Pneumonia?

Who is most at risk of dying?

Older adults and young kids are most at risk for serious complications of the flu, including hospitalization and death. Older folks are more likely to have weakened immune systems to begin with due to underlying health concerns, and they’re also more prone to developing a secondary infection, Dr. Salber says. Kids may be more likely to have an overwhelming immune system response simply because they may not have had previous exposure to a particularly aggressive strain of the flu.

Last year, for example, H3N2 was to blame for many cases of influenza. “It hadn’t been around for a number of years,” Dr. Salber says. “Kids who were born after the last time H3N2 was the dominant strain won’t have pre-formed antibodies, so the virus can spread more rapidly.”

Everyone has a different immune system, and the way an individual responds to the flu varies. Although our understanding of the flu has come a long way, “there are still lots of unknowns, unfortunately,” she says.

RELATED: 11 Signs It’s More Serious Than the Common Cold

How can someone with the flu stay safe?

This is not the time to play the hero. “Have a low threshold for when to contact a health care professional,” Dr. Salber says, especially if you feel like you’re the sickest you’ve ever been or you have severe, out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, such as shortness of breath.

“Most illnesses start out mild, you get sicker, and then you start getting better,” she explains. “If you’re getting sicker and sicker, don’t wait it out.” A doctor may decide to give you an antiviral treatment like Tamiflu or Relenza or diagnose and treat a secondary bacterial infection with antibiotics. Follow Mom’s advice too: Get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated to give your body the best shot at beating the flu safely and quickly.

RELATED: Does Wearing a Surgical Mask Prevent the Flu?

What’s the best way to avoid the flu in the first place?

Getting your flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself against the flu—yes, even if it’s late in flu season. It’s never 100% effective, “but it still has some protection,” Dr. Salber says. It’s better than nothing, and it helps protect the most vulnerable among us. “Young healthy people might say, ‘I can gut it out,’ but if you go visit Grandma, , maybe she can’t gut it out. Get your flu shot not to just protect yourself, but your loved ones,” she says.

Wash your hands regularly too, and don’t feel bad politely bowing out of a germy handshake. Your life, or someone else’s, may be at stake.

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One Sunday in November 20-year-old Alani Murrieta of Phoenix began to feel sick and left work early. She had no preexisting medical conditions but her health declined at a frighteningly rapid pace, as detailed by her family and friends in local media and on BuzzFeed News. The next day she went to an urgent care clinic, where she was diagnosed with the flu and prescribed the antiviral medication Tamiflu. But by Tuesday morning she was having trouble breathing and was spitting up blood. Her family took her to the hospital, where x-rays revealed pneumonia: inflammation in the lungs that can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, or both. Doctors gave Murrieta intravenous antibiotics and were transferring her to the intensive care unit when her heart stopped; they resuscitated her but her heart stopped again. At 3:25 P.M. on Tuesday, November 28—one day after being diagnosed with the flu—Murrieta was declared dead.

Worldwide, the flu results in three million to five million cases of severe illness and 291,000 to 646,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the totals vary greatly from one year to the next. The CDC estimates that between 1976 and 2005 the annual number of flu-related deaths in the U.S. ranged from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000. Between 2010 and 2016 yearly flu-related deaths in the U.S. ranged from 12,000 to 56,000.

But what exactly is a “flu-related death”? How does the flu kill? The short and morbid answer is that in most cases the body kills itself by trying to heal itself. “Dying from the flu is not like dying from a bullet or a black widow spider bite,” says Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “The presence of the virus itself isn’t going to be what kills you. An infectious disease always has a complex interaction with its host.”

After entering someone’s body—usually via the eyes, nose or mouth—the influenza virus begins hijacking human cells in the nose and throat to make copies of itself. The overwhelming viral hoard triggers a strong response from the immune system, which sends battalions of white blood cells, antibodies and inflammatory molecules to eliminate the threat. T cells attack and destroy tissue harboring the virus, particularly in the respiratory tract and lungs where the virus tends to take hold. In most healthy adults this process works, and they recover within days or weeks. But sometimes the immune system’s reaction is too strong, destroying so much tissue in the lungs that they can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the blood, resulting in hypoxia and death.

In other cases it is not the flu virus itself that triggers an overwhelming and potentially fatal immune response but rather a secondary infection that takes advantage of a taxed immune system. Typically, bacteria—often a species of Streptococcus or Staphylococcus—infect the lungs. A bacterial infection in the respiratory tract can potentially spread to other parts of the body and the blood, even leading to septic shock: a life-threatening, body-wide, aggressive inflammatory response that damages multiple organs. Based on autopsy studies, Kathleen Sullivan, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, estimates about one third of people who die from flu-related causes expire because the virus overwhelms the immune system; another third die from the immune response to secondary bacterial infections, usually in the lungs; and the remaining third perish due to the failure of one or more other organs.

Apart from a bacterial pneumonia, the secondary complications of the flu are numerous and range from the relatively mild, such as sinus and ear infections, to the much more severe, such as inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscles (myositis and rhabdomyolysis). They can also include Reye’s syndrome, a mysterious brain illness that usually begins after a viral infection, and Guillain–Barr syndrome, another virus-triggered ailment in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Sometimes Guillain–Barr leads to a period of partial or near-total paralysis, which in turn requires mechanical ventilation to keep a sufferer breathing. These complications are less common, but can be fatal.

The number of people who die from an immune response to the initial viral infection versus a secondary bacterial infection depends, in part, on the viral strain and the cleanliness of the spaces in which the sick are housed. Some studies suggest that during the infamous 1918 global flu pandemic, most people died from subsequent bacterial infections. But more virulent strains such as those that cause avian flu are more likely to overwhelm the immune system on their own. “The hypothesis is that virulent strains trigger a stronger inflammatory response,” Adalja says. “It also depends on the age group getting attacked. During the H1N1 2009 pandemic, the age group mostly affected was young adults, and we saw a lot of primary viral pneumonia.”

In a typical season most flu-related deaths occur among children and the elderly, both of whom are uniquely vulnerable. The immune system is an adaptive network of organs that learns how best to recognize and respond to threats over time. Because the immune systems of children are relatively naive, they may not respond optimally. In contrast the immune systems of the elderly are often weakened by a combination of age and underlying illness. Both the very young and very old may also be less able to tolerate and recover from the immune system’s self-attack. Apart from children between six and 59 months and individuals older than 65 years, those at the greatest risk of developing potentially fatal complications are pregnant women, health care workers and people with certain chronic medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and heart or lung diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

So far this flu season more than 6,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for influenza and 856 have been hospitalized for laboratory-confirmed flu-associated reasons, according to the CDC. The most effective way to prevent the flu and its many potentially lethal complications is to get vaccinated.

Can You Die from the Flu?

People often mistake the flu for a bad cold, since flu symptoms mimic a cold. When you catch the flu, you might experience coughing, sneezing, runny nose, hoarse voice, and a sore throat.

But flu can progress into conditions like pneumonia, or worsen other chronic issues like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure, which can quickly become life-threatening.

Flu can directly lead to death when the virus triggers severe inflammation in the lungs. When this happens, it can cause rapid respiratory failure because your lungs can’t transport enough oxygen into the rest of your body.

The flu can also cause your brain, heart, or muscles to become inflamed. This can lead to sepsis, an emergency condition that can be fatal if not immediately treated.

If you develop a secondary infection while you have the flu, that can also cause your organs to fail. The bacteria from that infection can get into your bloodstream and cause sepsis, as well.

In adults, symptoms of life-threatening flu complications include:

  • feeling short of breath
  • trouble breathing
  • disorientation
  • feeling suddenly dizzy
  • abdominal pain that is severe
  • pain in the chest
  • severe or ongoing vomiting

Life-threatening symptoms in babies include:

  • temperature higher than 100.3˚F (38˚C) in babies 3 months or younger
  • reduced urine output (not wetting as many diapers)
  • inability to eat
  • inability to produce tears
  • seizures

Emergency flu symptoms in small children include:

  • irritability and refusing to be held
  • inability to drink enough, leading to dehydration
  • breathing rapidly
  • stiffness or pain in the neck
  • headache that isn’t alleviated with over-the-counter pain relievers
  • trouble breathing
  • a blue tinge to the skin, chest, or face
  • inability to interact
  • difficulty waking up
  • seizures

People with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of developing complications — and possibly dying — from the flu.

When your immune system is weakened, you’re more likely to experience viruses and infections in a more severe form. And your body will have a harder time not only fighting those off, but also fighting any subsequent infections that could develop.

For example, if you already have asthma, diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, lung disease, or cancer, getting the flu could cause those conditions to get worse. If you have a kidney condition, getting dehydrated from the flu could worsen your kidney function.

This year’s flu season is off to a killer start — literally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that rates of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus are higher than what’s typically expected for this time of year.

But how does a person die from the flu?

The influenza virus can kill a person in several different ways, Live Science reported in 2016.

For instance, the virus can directly cause death, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told Live Science in 2016. This occurs when the flu virus causes such overwhelming inflammation in a person’s lungs that they die due to respiratory failure. Severe damage to the lungs makes it impossible for enough oxygen to pass through the lung tissue into the blood, leading to death.

When someone dies directly from the flu, it happens very quickly, Adalja added.

The flu can also kill indirectly, meaning that the virus makes a person more susceptible to other health problems, and these health problems lead to death. For example, getting sick with the flu can make certain groups of people, such as older adults and people with chronic illnesses, more susceptible to bacteria that cause pneumonia, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Pneumonia is the most serious complication” of the flu and can be deadly, the Mayo Clinic says.

When a person with the flu gets pneumonia, the pneumonia is considered a secondary bacterial infection, Adalja said. (Pneumonia can be caused by either a virus or bacteria; in the case of a secondary infection after flu, it is caused by bacteria.) Death from such secondary infections usually occurs about a week or so after the person first got sick, because it takes time for the secondary infection to set in, Adalja said.

The flu can lead to death in other ways as well. People with the flu can experience “multiple organ failure” throughout their body (in order words, multiple organs stop working properly), which can be deadly, Adalja said.

The flu can also trigger other serious complications, including inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, according to the CDC. Infection can also lead to an extreme, body-wide inflammatory response known as sepsis, which can be life-threatening, the CDC says.

The 2017–2018 flu season has been particularly harsh, partially because the predominant strain of flu that’s spreading, H3N2, tends to cause more severe symptoms than other strains, Live Science reported this month. And although the flu strains circulating this year do match up with those covered in the season’s flu vaccine, an odd phenomenon may have occurred during the vaccine-making process inside chicken eggs. During that process, flu strains can acquire genetic changes, and this may have happened for the H3N2 component of the vaccine, Adalja said previously.

Originally published on Live Science.

NEW YORK — An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — the disease’s highest death toll in at least four decades.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, revealed the total in an interview Tuesday night with The Associated Press.

Flu experts knew it was a very bad season, but at least one found size of the estimate surprising.


“That’s huge,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. The tally was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year, he said.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to — in the worst year — 56,000, according to the CDC.

Last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

The season peaked in early February. It was mostly over by the end of March, although some flu continued to circulate.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn’t work very well. Experts nevertheless say vaccination is still worth it, because it makes illnesses less severe and save lives.

“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated,” Redfield told the AP at an event in New York. “We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu.”

CDC officials do not have exact counts of how many people die from flu each year. Flu is so common that not all flu cases are reported, and flu is not always listed on death certificates. So the CDC uses statistical models, which are periodically revised, to make estimates.

Fatal complications from the flu can include pneumonia, stroke and heart attack.

CDC officials called the 80,000 figure preliminary, and it may be slightly revised. But they said it is not expected to go down.

It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Estimates for many earlier seasons were not readily available.

Last winter was not the worst flu season on record, however. The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted nearly two years, killed more than 500,000 Americans, historians estimate.

It’s not easy to compare flu seasons through history, partly because the nation’s population is changing. There are more Americans — and more elderly Americans — today than in decades past, noted Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert.

U.S. health officials on Thursday are scheduled to hold a media event in Washington, D.C., to stress the importance of vaccinations to protect against whatever flu circulates this coming winter.

And how bad is it going to be? So far, the flu that’s been detected is a milder strain, and early signs are that the vaccine is shaping up to be a good match, Jernigan said.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year,” he said.

— Mike Stobbe

The official cause of death was organ failure due to septic shock from the flu, the victim’s family said. (Facebook/Kyler Baughman)

A 21-year-old bodybuilder’s family says they were shocked when the healthy, young man died within days of being diagnosed with the flu.

Kyler Baughman’s relatives are warning others about the dangers of influenza after he died of complications from the virus last week at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania, WXPI reported.

His mom said Kyler was extremely active, often visiting the gym, before he became ill.


“He was into physical fitness,” Beverly Baughman told WXPI. “He was going to school to be a personal trainer.”

It first became apparent Kyler was sick when he returned home from work with a mild cough.

“He kinda just laid down and went about his day, and that was the day he was coughing and said his chest hurt,” said his fiancée, Olivia Marcanio.

Within 48 hours, his health began rapidly declining, according to his family.


He was rushed Wednesday to a Westmoreland County emergency room and airlifted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he died just hours later.

The official cause of death was organ failure due to septic shock from the flu, Kyler’s family said.

His parents are now urging others to seek medical treatment immediately if they are feeling under the weather.

“Try and know your body; don’t let things go,” Kyler’s dad, Todd Baughman, told WXPI. “Whenever you have a fever and you have it multiple days, don’t let it go. Get it taken care of.”

21-Year-Old Bodybuilder Dies Of Flu Complications: Septic Shock Led To Organ Failure


Flu-related deaths seem to be piling up, and news of a 21-year-old bodybuilder who died of flu complications just days after he started feeling ill seem unreal.

This is shaping up as the worst flu season in a good while, with California particularly affected, but other regions nationwide have registered severe flu cases as well.

Young Bodybuilder Dies Of Flu Complications

Kyler Baughman from Pennsylvania was a healthy young man leading an active lifestyle, going to the gym frequently, and studying to become a personal trainer. He started feeling slightly ill on Dec. 23, experiencing a mild cough and a runny nose, but nobody anticipated just how bad things would get.

“He looked rundown and had a bit of a snotty nose,” says his mother, Beverly Baughman.

He spent Christmas celebrating with his family and returned to work on Tuesday, Dec. 26, trying to ignore the flu symptoms. He was not feeling well, however, so he got back home early. Olivia Marcanio, Kyler’s fiancée, says that he laid down to rest, complaining of chest pain from a cough.

“I think he thought, ‘I just got the flu, I’ll be alright. I’ll go rest a little bit,'” adds his mother.

Flu Complications Develop Rapidly

Within just a couple of days, however, Kyler started feeling worse, spiking a fever on and off. His state rapidly deteriorated and he was rushed to an emergency room in Westmoreland County on Wednesday, Dec. 27. He was then rushed to Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian hospital, where he died less than 24 hours later.

According to his mother, he died of flu complications. The flu caused a septic shock, which in turn, led to organ failure that claimed his life just five days after he started feeling ill. His family says that he did not get a flu shot.

“It doesn’t seem real,” his mother says.

Don’t Ignore Flu Symptoms

Following the unexpected death of their son, the Baughmans are urging everybody to take flu symptoms more seriously and get treatment as soon as possible. His mother adds that Kyler probably ignored his flu thinking that it would just go away on its own. She says that many people make this mistake, but they should “pay more attention to their bodies” instead of ignoring the symptoms when they get sick.

This flu season has been especially tough, with ERs packed nationwide, and many pharmacies running out of flu medicines. The epidemic keeps spreading at a rapid pace, making more victims each day.

To help reduce the spread of flu viruses, the CDC advises people to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing, wash their hands frequently, and stay home if they’re feeling sick. People who suspect they have the flu should seek medical assistance within 48 hours of when they started feeling ill as the treatment is most effective within this timeframe.

A 21-Year-Old Aspiring Bodybuilder Died From Flu Complications & It’s A Reminder Of Why The Flu Shot Is So Important

Flu season is in full swing, and this year’s particular strain has grown to dangerous proportions. A 21-year-old died from the complications of the flu in Pennsylvania just a few weeks ago, according to The Washington Post. Kyler Baughman, who The Post described as “the face of fitness,” was an aspiring body builder who passed away from “organ failure due to septic shock caused by influenza” shortly after visiting his family for Christmas this year, according to Pittsburgh news channel WPXI. Though Baughman’s flu-like symptoms around Dec. 23 were described as pretty mild, his runny nose and fatigue quickly progressed to chest pains, a high fever on and off, and coughing. WPXI reported Baughman was first taken to an emergency room on Dec. 28, but was airlifted to UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh where he died less than 24 hours later. His family said they believed he had not received his annual flu shot.

In the wake of their son’s death, Baughman’s family is encouraging people to take the flu more seriously this year. “I just think he ignored it and thought it’d go away like most people, and I think people need to pay more attention to their bodies,” Baughman’s mother told WPXI. Todd Baughman, Kyler’s father, also added, “Try and know your body. Don’t let things go. Whenever you have a fever for multiple days, don’t let it go, get it taken care of.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), explained to Bustle earlier this fall that the common influenza could be more severe this year in the U.S. based on Australia’s flu season, and experts are now saying that it has reached “epidemic” levels. The flu is estimated to be widespread in at least 46 states, and has contributed to thousands of hospitalizations. Moreover, the CDC reported that between December 9 and December 16, pneumonia and influenza-related illnesses accounted for 6.7 percent of the deaths in the United States.

Though the U.S. is well into flu season, there is still time to get your annual flu shot — and it can still help you avoid this dangerous illness, as well as make the flu milder if you do catch it. The flu shot is not as effective on the common flu strain H3N2 as it was in previous years, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who was quoted in Business Insider. Even if you don’t have health insurance, free flu shots are offered all over the U.S. at pharmacies like CVS, grocery store chains, and local colleges. If you’ve been lucky enough to not contract the virus yet, keep practicing good hygiene to protect yourself from the flu. Washing your hands for twenty seconds multiple times per day, taking regular showers, and wiping down common surfaces can help keeping healthy. Additionally, avoiding public spaces when you can may help you avoid the flu as well.

Most importantly, if you feel are beginning to have flu-like symptoms, try to proactively take care of your health and avoid spreading it to others. According to WHO, most people recover from majority of severe flu symptoms within a week, but they can last for up to two weeks or more. Some of the earlier symptoms of the flu include fatigue, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, and even a mild fever. If you start to notice these symptoms, the CDC recommends treating the flu with “antiviral drugs, if prescribed by a doctor,” taking “everyday precautions” like proper hygiene, and resting at home for at least 24 hours after the fever breaks. Don’t be afraid to seek medical attention if you’re not feeling better a few days into the flu: According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, adults should call their doctor if they feel short of breath, cough up mucus, experience chest pains, have a fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and start to feel dizzy, or pass out completely. If you do contract the flu, make sure to avoid contact with others, especially immunocompromised folks such as pregnant people, elderly people, infants and toddlers, and people who were unable to get the flu shot due to health reasons. These populations are far more vulnerable to complications from the flu.

You taking care of yourself will help ensure less people get sick and you don’t spread the flu to family member, friends, and co-workers. Not everyone has the luxury to stay home from work if they are feeling ill, but if you can, do. The flu can be spread to others within six feet of the person who is infected through droplets of saliva when you cough, sneeze, or talk.

The flu may be more severe this year, but that doesn’t mean you should skip your shot, or not take the extra precautions to stay healthy. Listen to your body’s cues, and don’t convince yourself that the flu isn’t serious.

Related: Tsunami of flu activity covers entire continental U.S.

They cause the typical “flu-like symptoms” that bring misery from flu and other infections.

“The muscle aches, the fever — all of that is the result of the immune system responding to the virus,” Adalja said. That’s why so many diseases cause similar symptoms: it’s the body’s response, not the particular invader, that’s to blame.

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But different people have differently composed immune systems.

“In certain individuals there can be a very pronounced immune response that can result in a lot of damage to the cells in your body including the cells in the respiratory tract,” Adalja said.

When a virus is new, like the 1918 strain of H1N1 and the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu”, it usually kills far more people. One theory is that the immune system can become overwhelmed by the never-before-seen invader and sends so many troops to fight it that perfectly healthy tissue in the lungs and other organs gets killed, too.

People who die from “bird flu” viruses, such as H5N1 or H7N9, also seem to die via an over-the-top immune response.

Related: Here’s why you need a flu shot every year

And these newer viruses also tend to kill younger people, perhaps because the older population may have been exposed to a distant relative of the virus in the past. The H1N1 flu virus killed 282 U.S. children in 2009-2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. It may have infected 61 million people.

Now it’s just part of the annual flu mix and while it is circulating and killing some people this year, it’s the H3N2 strain that is suspected of causing most problems this time around.

One experiment showed that certain “new” genes in these never-before-seen viruses help them thrive deep in the lungs, which can cause pneumonia and might provoke an overwhelming immune response.

While a few people seem to die within hours or days, flu can cause lingering sickness in others. Then they become susceptible to other infections, such as streptococcal or staphylococcal bacterial infections.

These secondary infections can damage organs, cause pneumonia or get into the bloodstream, causing another kind of immune system overreaction called sepsis.

So far this season, flu has killed 30 children, according to the latest CDC data. Last season, 110 children died from influenza in the U.S.

The CDC doesn’t precisely count adult flu deaths, in no small part because it just kills so many. Every year, flu kills 12,000 to 56,000 people and sends as many as 700,000 to the hospital.

Related: H1N1 swine flu hit Americas especially hard in 2009

CDC estimates flu deaths by looking at how many more people than usual died of flu and pneumonia, but even those calculations miss people who may have died from flu complications, such as a heart attack set off by a bout of flu.

For patients with asthma or other lung conditions, flu is just one more problem for the lungs to cope with.

“They are already having breathing difficulties. It can put them into a spiral very quickly where their breathing gets compromised,” Adalja said.

Patients with diabetes already have a damaged immune response, so they also are more susceptible to flu.

Related: Death of teen athlete is a reminder that flu can kill anyone

And pregnant women have a double risk. “Pregnant women are in a state of immunosuppression because the immune system is trying not to reject the fetus,” said Adalja. So the virus can get further, faster in their bodies.

Plus their lungs are compressed by the fetus, so they have less breathing capacity. Humans need a certain level of oxygen and if blood oxygen levels fall too far, they enter a state called hypoxia. Hypoxia can cause organ damage within minutes.

That’s why bluish skin or difficulty breathing is an emergency that requires immediate medical care.

The best defense against flu, the CDC, FDA, pediatricians and other health experts agree, is a flu vaccine. Just about everyone over the age of 6 months should get one and it’s still not to late to do it.

And flu is spread by droplets that can linger on surfaces such as countertops, which is why hand-washing is so important. It also spreads via sneezing and coughing and, perhaps, may float in the air on tiny droplets emitted by simple breathing.

Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu) is a very common, highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It can be very dangerous, causing serious complications and death, especially for people in risk groups. In rare cases flu can kill people who are otherwise healthy. In the UK it is estimated that an average of 600 people a year die from complications of flu. In some years it is estimated that this can rise to over 10,000 deaths (see for example this UK study from 2013 , which estimated over 13,000 deaths resulting from flu in 2008-09). Flu leads to hundreds of thousands of GP visits and tens of thousands of hospital stays a year.

The flu virus is very variable and changes over time. Each year there are different strains around, and a new vaccine has to be prepared to deal with them. Vaccination from previous years is not likely to protect people against current strains of flu.

There are three basic types of flu: A, B and C. Type A is the most dangerous; it is the one that can cause serious disease and also triggers worldwide pandemics. Type C causes mild disease. Type B can make you feel very ill, but it has never led to a worldwide pandemic.

Flu epidemics can kill thousands or even millions of people. The 1918 flu epidemic is estimated to have affected half the world’s population, and killed 40-50 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world every year.

In the UK (and in the rest of the northern hemisphere) the annual flu season runs from about October to March or April. Most cases of flu occur between December and February.

Severe flu and the chance of death: How to tell if you need to see a doctor

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WATCH: Thousands of deaths annually associated with respiratory diseases from flu

0:47 Up to 650,000 deaths annually associated with respiratory diseases from flu: WHO Up to 650,000 deaths annually associated with respiratory diseases from flu: WHO

But how common are deaths related to the flu? Bogoch says cases such as Baughman’s do occur.

“It’s terrible, this is very sad,” Bogoch said, explaining that generally, deaths related to severe cases of influenza occur in the very young or elderly population, or among those who have pre-existing medical conditions.

“It’s not common, yet it’s not uncommon for a healthy, young individual to have very bad outcomes.”

READ MORE: The flu season in Canada is getting pretty nasty; here is everything you need to know

Public Health Agency of Canada’s website states that there are about 12,200 cases of flu-related hospitalizations in Canada each year, and 3,500 deaths. While the illness is at times regarded as something people can push through, it’s more serious than that.

The health agency reports that influenza is ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in the country. And worldwide, the illness claims between 250,000 to 500,000 lives each year.

WATCH: Study warns of deadly flu season

2:00 Study warns of deadly flu season Study warns of deadly flu season

There are preemptive measures, such as getting the flu shot and washing your hands more often, that can help lower the chances of contracting the illness.

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But once you have the flu, here’s what Canadians should know about how to handle it — and when it’s time to get help.

Regular flu symptoms vs. severe symptoms

“People who have influenza are going to feel really crummy, they are going to have fevers, they might have muscle pains. They’re going to have fatigue,” Bogoch explains, saying these are typical flu symptoms.

More severe forms of the flu have the same symptoms, Bogoch notes, but it just feels much worse.

READ MORE: Signs you’re too sick and should stay home during the flu season

“The things to look for are not new symptoms, but more severe symptoms,” he says. “It’s an intense weakness, and such a low appetite and fatigue that they’re really not able to keep up with their required food intake. That’s a problem because you can get quite sick and quite fast, and you might need to be seen in a medical facility.”

Another indication that it’s time to get medical help is difficulty breathing.

“It’s not a little bit of shortness of breath, but progressive shortness of breath,” which includes things like actually “huffing and puffing,” Bogoch explains.

WATCH: Flu shot could be only 10% effective against predominant strain

2:20 Flu shot could be only 10% effective against predominant strain Flu shot could be only 10% effective against predominant strain

Relief for people most at risk

Bryna Warshawsky, Ontario Public Health’s medical director for communicable disease, explains that there are ways for those who are most at risk of severe influenza to lower their chances of becoming sick.

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Influenza anti-viral drugs, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, work to stop the virus from growing, according to Warshawsky.

WATCH: Flu season overcrowding ERs throughout Montreal

1:53 Flu season over crowding ER’s throughout Montreal Flu season over crowding ER’s throughout Montreal

“The way they work is they stop the virus from growing any more, so if you just have a little virus in you, and you take these, they stop you from getting any sicker than you are.”

Warshawsky explains they are most commonly available for elderly people in nursing homes, and those who are admitted to the hospital with the flu. But other at-risk groups such as pregnant women, overweight individuals, and those with underlying medical problems, should consult their doctor about them.

“Those are the people who could end up with pneumonia, end up in hospital or end up dying from the flu,” she said.

How long should flu last?

While it’s different for everyone, typically, flu symptoms should begin to clear up in a couple of days. But Bogoch says a virus will generally run its course, and people will just have to stick it out.

READ MORE: Here’s why Canada may be in for a miserable 2017-18 flu season

For some relief, the doctor suggests considering acetaminophens for fevers, and electrolytes and fluids to keep hydrated.

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— With files from Global News reporters Arti Patel and Katie Dangerfield

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

The most common complication from the flu that can lead to death is a bacterial infection of the lungs, or bacterial pneumonia.

“This happens because the flu virus injures the lungs and causes inflammation that then makes it easier for bacteria to invade the lungs and cause a very serious infection,” Bocchini told CBS News. “The bacterial infection can make it hard for children to breathe, and their lungs struggle to get enough oxygen for their body.”

Sepsis is another complication that can lead to death. It occurs when the body overreacts to an infection. Sepsis can affect multiple organ systems, sometimes causing organ failure and resulting in death.

Other rare complications from the flu that can be fatal include infection of the heart (or myocarditis) which can cause sudden death or heart failure, and infection of the brain (or encephalitis) which can lead to seizures and dangerous swelling of the brain.

Parents in disbelief over 12-year-old’s flu death

Who is most at risk? Children under the age of 5, and especially those younger than 2, as well as people who are 65 and older are more likely to develop complications from flu. Also in the higher-risk group are pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and neurologic conditions.

How can you protect yourself?

The best defense against the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot each year.

“The flu vaccine is a very safe vaccine that saves lives,” Bocchini said. “Studies have shown that of the children who died from the flu in the U.S. last year, 85 percent were not immunized.”

Although the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, doctors say it does reduce the chances, and if you do get sick it may be less severe.

If you develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches and fatigue, and you are at high risk for complications from the flu, it is important to see your doctor to ask if you should receive an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu (also available as generic oseltamivir), Relenza or Rapivab.

“There are antiviral medications that can be used to shorten the duration of illness as well as to help prevent complications from the flu,” Bocchini said. “Antiviral medications should be started early to have their best chance of helping.”

Take common-sense precautions to avoid exposure to the flu virus, such as washing your hands frequently and staying away from people who are sick. Stay home if you have flu-like symptoms until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.

When the flu becomes severe, some people may need immediate medical attention to prevent further complications.

“Sometimes people will need to go to the emergency room to see a doctor right away due to the flu virus,” Bocchini said. “It is very important to know the signs and symptoms that indicate when someone is very sick from the flu and needs help right away.”

According to the CDC, emergency warning signs in children include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults, emergency warning signs from flu may present as:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

If you or your child have these symptoms, it is important to get medical treatment right away.

Flu: What To Do If You Get Sick

Common Signs & Symptoms of Flu

Influenza (flu) can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

What should I do if I get sick?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.).

Certain people are at high risk of serious flu-related complications (including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions). This is true both for seasonal flu and novel flu virus infections. (For a full list of people at high risk of flu-related complications, see People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications). If you are in a high risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor early in your illness. Remind them about your high risk status for flu. CDC recommends that people at high risk for complications should get antiviral treatment as early as possible, because benefit is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days after illness onset.

Do I need to go to the emergency room if I am only a little sick?

No. The emergency room should be used for people who are very sick. You should not go to the emergency room if you are only mildly ill.

If you have the emergency warning signs of flu sickness, you should go to the emergency room. If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice. If you go to the emergency room and you are not sick with the flu, you may catch it from people who do have it.

What are the emergency warning signs of flu?

People experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
  • Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
  • Not alert or interacting when awake
  • Seizures
  • Fever above 104°F
  • In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

These lists are not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

Full season is in full swing, with nearly every state reporting high influenza activity and 14 more children dying this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

So far this flu season, 68 children have died, according to CDC estimates released Friday.

While hospitalizations aren’t high for this point in the season, children are particularly vulnerable to the virus and its complications.

During recent flu seasons, deaths among children have ranged from 37 to 187.

This year’s flu shot isn’t an exact match for the strain that’s been circulating most widely, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it, health experts said.

“The influenza vaccine protects against various strains, three or four, depending on which vaccine you receive,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Early 2019 to 2020 flu activity primarily was driven by influenza B/Victoria viruses, for which the vaccine is not a great match. Now, that flu activity is changing, “an increase in A/H1N1,” Schaffner said.

“It looks like we’re having a second wave,” he added. “The vaccine is exactly on target against this strain.”

In general, influenza B is more common in children, while influenza A, also called H1N1, is more commonly seen in older adults, according to Dr. Jessica Grayson, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

So far, 10,000 people have died and 180,000 people have been hospitalized during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to preliminary estimates from the CDC.

“The flu season began early this year and took off aggressively,” added Schaffner. “It began prominently in the southeastern states but quickly spread. So far, there is no sign that the momentum of the annual epidemic is slowing.”

The majority of states, as well as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are now seeing high flu activity.

In total, the CDC estimates that 19 million people have gotten the flu so far this season.

It’s too early to say how severe this flu season will be or how long it will last.

Typical flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, aches, chills and sweats and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While the flu might seem like a relatively minor disease because it’s so common, complications from the flu, which can include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma flare-ups and heart problems, can be deadly.

People with weakened immune systems, adults older than age 65 and babies are all at a higher risk of contracting the flu

If you experience flu symptoms, Grayson recommends staying home from work and other public places to avoid transmitting the disease to others. Wash your hands often and avoid others who are ill.

“Before going to your doctor’s office, call,” Grayson said. “They may have a different waiting room for those who are sick.”

How to protect yourself — and your child

Getting vaccinated against the flu is the best way to protect against the disease, according to experts.

Receiving the vaccine earlier in the season is preferable, because the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, but even partial protection against the flu can ward off the worst symptoms and make the duration of the disease less severe.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Grayson stressed. “We still have a lot of flu season left.”

Guidelines for children are slightly different than for adults, according to the CDC. The agency is now recommending that some children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years old get two doses of the vaccine, spaced at least four weeks apart. The child’s doctor or health care provider should determine whether he or she needs a second dose for the best possible protection against the flu.

Despite those recommendations, however, many Americans mistakenly believe that the flu vaccine doesn’t work or has side effects. Apart from soreness at the needle’s injection site, there are no notable side effects linked to the flu vaccine.)

Partly because of these misconceptions, only half of Americans reported that they planned to get the flu vaccine this year, according to a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases this summer.

In addition to the flu vaccine, there are four Food and Drug Administration-approved antiviral drugs that the CDC recommends for treating the flu.

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