The repeated pleading on the news for everybody to get their flu shot (no criticism implied) got me curious. If you need to be in the ICU simply because of influenza, what symptoms put you there? e.g. Do your lungs fill with fluid? Do your other organs fail?
Dehydration is a major issue. A person with the flu can be sweating from a fever, but not able to keep food and drink down. My wife was hospitalized with the flu a number of years ago and dehydration was the biggest worry.
I’ve told this story before but I’ve had flu a couple times and it puts all other colds and sniffles into perspective.
Once as fit 26 year old I was slightly off my food on Christmas day morning and was in bed with a raging fever of 103 by 12:30.
My wife had to change the sheets twice a day for three days as I was lathered with sweat.
I drank only water for five days and didn’t need to go to the toilet because i was sweating so much. I couldn’t read, couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t hold a conversation. I was racked with joint pain, stomach cramps and the real fun started on the third day when the chest infection kicked in. This meant I had to cough, which made my joints scream and caused me to want to be sick.
On the third day i tried to go to the toilet to be sick but only got two paces from my bed before starting to shiver so much that I fell over. I decided I didn’t need to be sick after all.
Days 3-7 I remained in bed, sweating, coughing and in pain. Day 6 I finally ate some tomato soup and the shivers and pain subsided gradually though my appetite was subdued for another two weeks and I couldn’t smell or taste properly for a month.
It was utter misery, I suspect I should have gone to hospital but it is certainly easy to see how either the raging fever, dehydration or chest infections could kill a slightly more at risk patient.
It is a very real killer. I don’t know what would have happened to me had I been on my own without my wife to make me drink and feed me painkillers. It scared her very much indeed and she thanks her lucky stars that she’s never had the flu herself.
The Influenza virus can be extremely damaging to the cells of the lungs. That, by itself, can lead to severe pneumonia (i.e. viral pneumonai) and death.
Very common, though, and a major reason for death from Influenza is that the virus directly, and indirectly, promotes bacterial infection in the lungs, i.e secondary bacterial pneumonia. Here is a high level review of this epiphenomenon.
Although lung problems are the big killer in Influenza infection, other bad things such as myocarditis (heart inflammation) can also contribute to mortality.
My experience was pretty much like Novelty Bubble. I started out feeling achy and uncomfortably warm. Within 12 hours I was running a fever, and within 24 hours it was nearing 104, and the first trip to the doctor. By that time I wasn’t just sick, I was so fatigued I could barely get out of bed, even if I had wanted to. Next came the breathing difficulties and the second trip to the doctor. He diagnosed pneumonia.
That doesn’t even count the chills and sweating from the fever cycling up and down.
Now think about this. I’m running a fever of 104, I feel so weak I can barely move, AND I’m having trouble breathing.
And that’s why people die from the flu.
I neglected to point out (as others have) that when you’re sick with Influenza (or during any other acute illness, especially when associated with fever), your fluid needs increase. Problem is that often you don’t feel much like drinking, or throw it up if you try. The net effect is that there is a real risk of serious dehydration.
Especially, when dehydration is coupled with muscle inflammation, as can occur with Influenza, it’s a double whammy on the kidneys - they “dry out” and do so at a time when the toxic breakdown products of the inflamed muscles (toxic to the kidneys) should be being peed out. Kidney failure can result.
So, in full blown, life-threatening Influenza, you might have lung failure (from viral and/or secondary bacterial pneumonia), heart failure (directly due to the effect of the Influenza virus on the heart OR simply as a ‘paradoxical’ response to being so sick), as well as kidney failure. You don’t need to be a doc to know that’s a set up for major problems, including death.
ETA: I am currently caring for a woman with developmental delay, living at a group home (a set up for acquisition of infections, including Influenza) whose mother “declined” the Influenza vaccine for her daughter. She is now intubated in the ICU. I’d say she has a 50/50 chance of leaving hospital.
loss of fluids can lead to hypernatremia which can easily become life threatening.
Interesting! Thanks everyone! Yes, I did get my flu shot this time around, and have gotten shot pretty much every year they’ve been readily available (not positive I got one the very first years they were available, but I haven’t missed many). I was just curious what “fun” I’ve been missing since I don’t think I’ve ever in my life had the flu.
One of my Facebook friends, a very healthy 40-something woman, spent an overnight in a small-town hospital’s ICU due to influenza a couple years ago. She went to her doctor because she was so miserable, and he sent her right over to the hospital, which admitted her. She had symptoms of pulmonary edema, and was treated for that. She was transferred to a regular room after some hours, and discharged a day or two later.
Sure hope that doesn’t happen to her again, because she’s since had a baby.
Christ—I’d hate to think that she declined to vaccinate her daughter because she couldn’t afford it.
A sensible choice. And though it may be a cliché, if you have to think whether you’ve had the flu, you probably haven’t. Be very thankful. It may allow such as myself a bit of “flu-upmanship” but I’d gladly swap the experience for a lifetime of blissful ignorance.
They seem to be getting cheaper, too. Everybody around town now is $25, whereas they were about $35 - $45 in past years. In the past I’ve gotten them sporadically, sometimes skipping a year. Not any more. Even when I had pneumonia a few years ago, it wasn’t as bad as what Novelty Bobble described. It was bad, but not that horrific.
Do the rules of herd immunity apply here? If everybody got the vaccine, will this bitch go away for good (assuming that we can keep one step ahead of the mutations)?
Not to worry - vaccinations are free for everyone in Canuckistan.
Although I didn’t say it above, she declined the vaccination with words to the effect of “I’ve seen people get very sick from them. Thank you but no thank you”.