Influenza (the flu)

Risks at a glance:

  • Sinus and ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
  • Multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure)
  • Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection
  • Death, even in young, fit, and healthy people

About the disease:
People with influenza have a fever that starts suddenly, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, runny nose, feel severely unwell and unable to get out of bed. The cough can be severe and can last 2 or more weeks. Many people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention, but influenza can cause severe illness or death, even in young, fit, and healthy people.

How is it spread:
Influenza spreads very easily. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the influenza virus are dispersed into the air and can spread up to one meter, and infect anyone nearby who breathes the droplets in. The virus can also be spread by hands contaminated with the influenza virus.

Treatment:
There is no cure for influenza, but antiviral drugs can make it milder, and shorten the time a person is sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. When influenza is severe, hospital care is needed and some people can end up in the intensive care unit on life support.

Impact of influenza:
Worldwide, influenza is estimated to cause about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 deaths every year.

Prevention:
While not perfect, the influenza vaccine (flu shot) is the best chance we have of preventing influenza or stopping it from being severs. Good hand hygiene can help too.

Real life stories:

Three families tell the stories of Billy, Cloe, and Emily and the devastating consequences flu can have on a child here.

A healthy 29 year old woman dies from complications of the flu – read about her here.

27-Year-Old Texas Fitness Trainer Who Exercised ‘All the Time’ Dies of the Flu. Read his story here.

A woman in an induced coma was unaware she had given birth after coming down with influenza A while pregnant. Sarah Hawthorn’s baby boy had to be  delivered by caesarean while she was fighting for her life. She remained in a coma for the first three months of her baby’s life, but luckily she survived. You  can read her story here and here.

Sara Hawthorn
Sarah with her baby boy after recovering from their influenza ordeal.

Rosie Andersen lost her life to influenza in 2017, her parents talk about their loss here.

Rosie Anderson
Rosie Andersen