While studying medicine in Tennessee, I worked with a group of doctors charged with managing patients sick enough to be admitted to the hospital for closer surveillance. During this time, a roughly 60-year-old man entered our care.
It was determined through testing that the he had originally presented with the flu, which later developed into pneumonia. This scenario is not uncommon to those who suffer from severe flu symptoms.
As this patient progressed in our care, he required more and more treatment. Eventually, he was transferred to a larger hospital and died within a week.
A few days later, his wife presented to our care with very similar symptoms. Like her late husband, she was sent to a larger hospital and died within a week.
Although some may contract the flu virus and successfully fight it with rest, fluids, over-the-counter medications and chicken noodle soup, this virus can place our bodies in a vulnerable position by weakening our defense systems.
This weakened state can allow other microbes to infect our bodies — as exemplified by the patients in Tennessee. The flu virus coupled with other infections can be complicated and difficult for our bodies to manage and recover.
Minor complications of the flu can consist of ear and sinus infections and bronchitis. The flu may also lead to more severe complications including development of pneumonia as well as the worsening of congestive heart failure, asthma and COPD.
The more severe complications can lead to hospital stay including the intensive care unit. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies show that 80,000 people died from the flu virus last year — a high for the last three decades. Those who are most susceptible to complications from the flu are children younger than 5, individuals older than 65, residents of nursing homes and pregnant women.
Flu symptoms consist of sudden onset of fever, chills, body aches and coughing. These symptoms may appear to be similar to the common cold.
Typically, the flu will present with more severe symptoms, however, further testing may still be required to distinguish between the flu or common cold.
The flu can be debilitating for up to multiple days — individuals find regular tasks difficult and even exhausting. Those experiencing the flu often require many hours per day resting.
In our most recent article, we discussed a few simple measures to prevent infections. One section needs to be highlighted — vaccinations.
Many healthcare professionals have witnessed the severity and far-reaching effects of the flu. Thus, we encourage our patients to receive the flu vaccine in hopes of preventing infection and further complications.
Each year, researchers monitor the most prominent types of flu viruses and create a vaccine to combat them. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year due to the unpredictable and frequent changes in a virus’s makeup. Regardless of the precision toward the prevention of the exact type of flu, there are other benefits that dramatically work in your favor.
Individuals who receive a flu vaccination may still become infected with the flu virus and experience symptoms. However, individuals experience less severe symptoms and are less likely to develop more severe complications as discussed above.
Added to this is less time taken away from work and other responsibilities. Also, these individuals are less likely to enter hospital care and even more unlikely to enter the intensive care unit. If they do enter these facilities, their recovery time is much faster.
The flu vaccine is a simple and cost-effective way to prevent infection. It also adds the benefit of not requiring added treatment if one happens to become infected.
Kelsey Allen, D.O., is a family medicine physician at Mountain View Medical Clinic in Enterprise. Mountain Medicine is a collaboration between Ron Polk and Allen.