by Kimberly Allen, RN
Winter is upon us and alson with the snow and cold come the seasonal illnesses like the flu. The CDC estimates that approximately 20% of the people living in the US will contract the flu this season and out of that 20% approximately 200,000 people will develop complications requiring hospitalization and as many as 49,000 people will die due to complications related to the flu.
Though most people that contract the flu recover in a week to ten days without suffering any complications there are some people that develop serious even fatal complications. The most common complication of the flu is pneumonia. Viral pneumonia related to the flu can develop as early as 24-36 hours after flu symptoms develop. What makes viral pneumonia so dangerous is that it will not improve with antibiotic treatment as antibiotics will not destroy viruses. Bacterial pneumonia can also develop but usually develops later, usually after you start to feel better. However, bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics and most people usually improve after antibiotic treatment is initiated.
There are also certain complications that are more common in young children like bronchitis. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchioles which are the small airways in the
lungs. Bronchitis is the leading cause of serious illness related to the flu in infants and children under 2 years of age. Another complication that affects primarily children is the croup. Children with croup develop swelling in their trachea, also known as the wind pipe. This causes the child to have a very distinct “barking” type cough with a high pitched sound when breathing in as well as difficulty breathing. Croup is also caused by a virus and can not be treated with antibiotics. Another potentially serious complication that can develop in infants andyoung children is dehydration. Severe vomiting and diarrhea that frequently accompany the flu can cause children to lose more fluid that they can take in causing them to become dehydrated leading to even more serious problems.
Ryes syndrom is another complication that was more common before it was linked to the use of aspirin in children with viral infections. Ryes syndrom can be fatal so it’s important to never use aspirin products to treat your childs fever or other flu symptoms. There are also several cardiac problems that can develop due to the flu including inflammation of the heart muscle and/or the sac that surrounds the heart muscle as well as heart attacks.
As mentioned earlier, most healthy people recover from the flu without complications however, certain people have a greater risk of developing complications including the very young especially infants and children as well as adults over the age of 50. People that suffer with chronic diseses like diabetes or congestive heart failure as well as those with suppressed immune systems like HIV/AIDS or people on long term steroid therapy also have a significantly higher risk of developing complications.
The best way to prevent the flu and the potential complications associated with it is to get an annual flu vaccine. Also, the pneumonia vaccine which is a one time vaccine for all adults that have an increased risk for developing complications. Drs also recommend that the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or PVC13 be given to all children. Children under 2 years of age receive four doses of the PVC13 vaccine where as those over 2 years of age that did not receive the vaccine should be given a single dose. In addition to getting your annual flu shot it’s important to always practice good hand washing and take precautions to avoid viral infections.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.