Most people view influenza as a routine, if unpleasant, possibility each winter.
But the case of a 21-year-old man in Pennsylvania is a poignant reminder that sometimes, the worst-case scenario is more serious than sick days and bed rest.
Kyle Baughman, an aspiring personal trainer living in Latrobe, came home for Christmas not feeling well.
His symptoms persisted when returning to work after the the holidays.
Just a few days later, however, Kyle died at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian hospital from flu-related organ failure, according to his family.
Why does the flu turn deadly?
Influenza can be a very serious illness.
Even though the vast majority of the public that comes down with actual influenza will get through it with Tylenol, fluids, Motrin, whatever, there are people who do get very sick.
Deadly cases are mostly limited to the very young, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, such as respiratory illnesses, but a very small percentage of otherwise healthy people do develop serious complications.
For some people with pneumonia, it will spread to their bloodstream and cause an overwhelming, multi-system infection.
While these cases are extremely infrequent, they can sometimes end in death,.
What should you do if you have the flu?
Don’t try to ride it out yourself. Visit your primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic within 48 hours of developing telltale flu symptoms, including cough, fever, runny nose, sore throat and body aches.
A doctor can treat you with Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that can mitigate some symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.
But if you’re seeking treatment, don’t go to the emergency room, where you’ll run the risk of infecting others and exposing yourself to sicknesses potentially more severe than yours.
How can you tell if the flu is serious?
In most cases, flu symptoms will subside within three to seven days and are mild enough to be treated with over-the-counter painkillers, fluids and rest.
If you experience prolonged symptoms, or shortness of breath on par with what you’d feel during strenuous exercise, you should see your doctor to rule out complications.
Is it too late to get a flu shot?
Not at all. Its better now than never.
If you develop a bit of an immunity now, and you’re exposed to it later on, it will protect you.
And while the flu shot isn’t 100% effective, vaccinated people who still get sick will likely have less severe cases than those who never get vaccinated at all.