When schools in North Texas shut down for a week to try and prevent the spread of germs, you know it’s a serious flu season. Every day new headlines seem to pepper news outlets, revealing yet another tragic story. The timeline is short — a loved one realizes they have the flu on a Saturday and are have shockingly passed away by the following Wednesday. Oftentimes these are not elderly or exceptionally frail people either. But what is really causing them to lose their lives?
There has been a lot of talk that the flu itself does not actually tend to kill an otherwise healthy person, but rather underlying issues make it possible for the flu to attack the body more effectively, sometimes resulting in a seemingly out of the blue death. Studies show that it is usually the combination of multiple and preexisting factors that, mixed with the flu, result in death.
Maggie Fox, for NBC News, wrote a recent article explaining how the flu virus is able to kill some people so quickly.
“Doctors who study the body’s immune response say there are 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,” Fox writes in her article.
Fox states that researchers who examined tissue sample from the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic that claimed 50 million lives believe that the incredible body count was likely due to a co-infection with another germ, not the flu virus alone. New strains of the virus are also particularly potent and deadly, likely because the immune system overcompensates in trying to destroy the unfamiliar invader, fatally damaging healthy organs in the process. This would also leave younger populations more vulnerable, since their bodies have had less exposure to relatives of the particular virus strain. The flu can also cause lingering sickness which makes the body susceptible to additional infections. Fox states that these secondary infections can cause considerable damage, resulting in immune system overload.
While headlines seem to occur almost daily reporting another death, classroom seats empty out as students are home sick and professionals are rapidly running through their sick days, Donald McNeil Jr. for the New York Times writes that this flu season is not as unusual as people are making it out to be. With every state except Hawaii reporting flu activity that is widespread, McNeil classifies this flu season as “moderately severe.” Though certain areas are being hit harder than others, he states that the number of deaths and hospitalizations nationwide are not significantly high.
“H3N2 [which is recorded in about 78 percent of flu samples this year thus far] is the most dangerous of the four seasonal flu strains, but it is not new nor uniquely lethal,” he writes.
McNeil says the strain was first recorded in Hong Kong 50 years ago, killing approximately 1 million people in the world in 1968. This strain has been circulating in the past five decades, undergoing small mutations. The CDC has recorded that nearly 6-percent of Americans appear to have flu symptoms. Though there haven’t been major signs of a crisis, hospitals in areas such as central Texas have been overwhelmed by the influx in flu patients seeking treatment.
With flu season in full swing, there arises the question of whether or not to use Tamiflu. A recent local news channel in Grayson County expressed concern over a young child experiencing extremely odd behaviors while using the antiviral drug, including attempts to hurt herself. This type of reporting leads to fear mongering, which is not needed in this case. Before giving a medication to your child, research is necessary, and studies clearly show that it is dangerous to give medications such as Tamiflu to children who are under the age of 12. However, this does not mean that Tamiflu cannot be effective in adults. It simply means that people have to be mindful of age regulations.
Next year don’t put off the wait — get the flu shot in late August or early September. No it does not guarantee flu protection and certainly can’t provide immunity against all strains, but it a precaution we must take to protect both ourselves and those around us, especially those who have compromised immune systems and cannot get the shot themselves.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.