How the flu turns deadly

How the flu turns deadly
(Photo source: Michael Williams, WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The flu continues to run rampant throughout WAVE Country, taking dozens of lives.

On Friday, Jefferson County health officials reported that 10 people have died from the flu this flu season. On Monday, that number climbed to 12.

In Kentucky, more than 100 deaths being blamed on the flu since the season started in October. In Indiana, there are even more flu-related deaths - over 135.

Although the fever and aches may feel terrible, most people don't die from the flu.

"Most commonly it's respiratory failure, either caused directly by influenza infection or potentially a secondary bacterial pneumonia," Infectious Diseases Specialist with Norton Healthcare Dr. Paul Schulz said. "Sometimes patients either one of those two things and might get something called adult respiratory distress syndrome."

The flu generally hits older people, young kids and those with compromised immune systems hardest.

Louisville resident Wanda Blanford, 74, went from seeing a movie at the theater to a hospital room at Norton Healthcare.

"It started Friday and then by Saturday it was all downhill," Blanford said. Blanford is proof of how dangerous the flu can be.

"It was like boom, boom, boom," Blanford said. "Doctors said when I came in here I had the flu. I've got COPD and it triggered my COPD than, afer i got here it triggered me into afib."

On the weekend, Wanda started to think things were getting worse.

"Over Saturday and Sunday I started to think I might be dying, if you want to know the truth," Blanford said.

It is possible for the flu itself to cause death due to serious breathing problems and severe dehydration but, it is more likely that a complication from the infection will be the cause of a flu-related fatality.

"Particularly if you have chronic lung disease that's the classic scenario your lungs are already compromised," Dr. Schulz said. "If you have chronic heart disease you are more likely to have a heart attack. You are more likely to get stressed from something like influenza."

Sepsis is another complication that can lead to death. It occurs when the body overreacts to an infection. While flu is most dangerous for adults over the age of 65 and children under the age of 5, it can turn deadly for anyone.

The death toll among children is now up to 53 nationwide, jumping by 16 in the past week. A first grader from Columbus, Indiana died shortly after being diagnosed with a combination of the flu, scarlet fever and strep throat.

Blanford wants everyone to know not take the flu lightly.

"Go to doctor, go to hospital, and get that shot," Blanford said.

Blanford did get a flu shot and she fears that she could have been in even worse shape had she not.

Doctors stress that it isn't too late to get a flu shot. If you do have the flu, do yourself and other a favor and stay home and  wash your hands frequently.

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