Recently, a 4-year-old, and 10-year-old, and a 21-year-old bodybuilder died due to the flu.
The flu is not thought to be a big killer, but every year the flu kills healthy young adults and children, and tens of thousands of people over 65.
So, how does the flu become so dangerous?
Doctors who study the body’s immune response say there are three main reasons: co-infection with another germ, aggravation of existing conditions such as heart disease and asthma; and a so-called cytokine storm.
During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, where up to 50 million people died, many people were reported to have died within hours of showing their first symptoms.
Researchers who have gone back and re-examined tissue samples, and read reports from the time, believe most deaths were caused by co-infection with another germ.
Referring to the cytokines the human immune system produces to fight infections, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the John Hopkins University Center for Health Security, stated “Those substances work to stop the virus from spreading.”
These cause the typical “flu-like symptoms” we are used to.
“The muscle aches, the fever — all of that is the result of the immune system responding to the virus,” Adalja said.
Therefore, so many diseases have similar symptoms: it’s the body’s response, not the virus, that’s causing this distress.
However, for some people this circumstance is different.
“In certain individuals there can be a very pronounced immune response that can result in a lot of damage to the cells in your body including the cells in the respiratory tract,” Adalja said.
When a virus is new, like the 1918 strain of H1N1 and the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu”, it usually kills far more people due to your body sending too many troops to fight the newly introduced virus.
Your body sending so many troops can be overbearing and the lungs and other organs can get killed, too.
People who die from “bird flu” viruses, such as H5N1 or H7N9, also seem to die due to an over-the-top immune response.
Younger people tend to get more harmed by newer viruses because the older population may have already been introduced to a distant relative of the virus in their past.
For example, the H1N1 flu virus that infected 61 million people from 2009-2010 killed 282 U.S. children, according to the CDC.
A recent experiment showed “new” genes in these never-before-seen viruses that help them thrive deep in the lungs, which can cause pneumonia and might provoke an overwhelming immune response.
Very few people die within hours or days, which seems comforting.
However, the flu can cause lingering sickness in others; leaving them susceptible to other infections, such as streptococcal or staphylococcal bacterial infections.
These other infections can damage organs, cause pneumonia, or get into the bloodstream and cause another immune system overreaction called sepsis.
According to the CDC, 30 children have died from the flu this season so far, as compared to 110 children that died in last year’s season overall.
The CDC doesn’t precisely count adult flu deaths due to there being so many.
The flu kills 12,000 to 56,000 people yearly and sends as many as 700,000 to the hospital.
The CDC estimates flu deaths by looking at how many more people than usual died of flu and pneumonia, but even those calculations are not correct as they miss people who may have died from flu complications.
For people with asthma or other lung conditions, flu is just one more problem for the lungs to handle.
“They are already having breathing difficulties.
It can put them into a spiral very quickly where their breathing gets compromised,” Adalja said.
People with diabetes already have a damaged immune response, so they are more susceptible to flu as well.
Pregnant women are also very susceptible to the flu.
“Pregnant women are in a state of immunosuppression because the immune system is trying not to reject the fetus,” said Adalja.
So, the virus can go faster and get further in their bodies.
The flu is not something to be taken lightly, and it should be avoided at all costs.
Using a non-alcoholic hand sanitizer is recommended as it will help you fight off harmful bacteria that can cause the flu and other dangerous viruses.