10 Signs Your Flu Might Be Deadly
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 80,000 people died from the flu last year alone. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe this season.
What is the flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that’s caused by influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are three types of influenza virus, influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C (though infections by C are mild). Influenza A can also break down into different subtypes; B doesn’t have subtypes, but it does have various lineages and strains. All of that adds up to several types of bugs that can make you sick each flu season.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
It can be difficult to determine whether you’ve come down with the flu or a cold—though one telltale is the severity of your symptoms. Cold symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, and a sore throat, will be much milder than flu symptoms, which include the symptoms of a cold plus a fever, chills, headaches, and extreme fatigue. If you think you might have the flu, it’s important to see your doctor who can run tests for the virus. Check out these situations that make you think you have the flu, but you really don’t.
What about the stomach flu?
Also known as gastroenteritis flu, this can also be caused by a virus—most commonly rotavirus and norovirus, says Niket Sonpal, MD, an NYC-based internist and gastroenterologist. “With gastroenteritis, the main symptoms someone will have include watery diarrhea and vomiting,” Dr. Sonpal says. “You might also have stomach pain, cramping, fever, nausea, and a headache.” Find out 8 ways to prevent getting the stomach flu.
You get a secondary infection
The virus can become deadly when it triggers a sickness like pneumonia—inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs (which may fill with fluid). The subsequent infection can be deadly. Other serious conditions include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), and sepsis—the body’s response to infection which triggers inflammation throughout the body and can result in organ failure or death. Keep track of the following signs to know if your flu is becoming more dangerous.
Having a hard time breathing normally—or feeling unusually short of breath—are signs that you’re experiencing flu complications, says Dr. Sonpal. This is more than a stuffy nose that makes it hard to breathe. An infection like pneumonia makes it a struggle for you to fill your lungs; you’ll be unable to take long deep breaths. Here are some signs your respiratory infection is actually pneumonia.
Chest or abdominal pain
Image Point Fr/Shutterstock
If you experience chest pain, says Dr. Sonpal, you should consider a trip to the ER to rule out heart trouble. This could be a sign of infection such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) or pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart). If you suffer from a preexisting heart issue like congestive heart failure, an infection resulting from the flu could make conditions worse.
Sudden dizziness or confusion
While a high fever can leave you feeling a little disoriented, dizziness and confusion can be a sign of infection. It’s important to get checked out immediately if you start to experience any such signs. And check out these flu-prevention strategies.
Severe or persistent vomiting
While Dr. Sonpal says that one of the symptoms that come with gastroenteritis is vomiting, this should only last a day or two. If it’s been more than two days, you’re vomiting blood, you have a high fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or you can’t keep liquids down for longer than a day, you should call your doctor.
You’re a certain age or size
Senior citizens (over the age of 65) and people who are overweight or obese are more likely to get the flu, warns Dr. Sonpal. These groups tend to have weaker immune systems and a lower immune response to viruses, and can therefore be at risk for complications. The CDC stresses that the elderly especially watch for secondary infections. “This is because the immune system typically weakens with age,” Dr. Sonpal says. Here’s are some ways to tell that flu season is in full effect.
You have a medical condition
“Being pregnant or having a chronic lung disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis, and cystic fibrosis are among the diseases that place someone at high risk for developing flu complications,” says Dr. Sonpal.
You’re an infant
Kids under the age of five years old—and particularly babies under two years of age—are at high risk of flu complications as well, warns the CDC. Parents: If you notice your infant has trouble breathing, has changes in skin tone to a bluish color, is extremely irritable, has a fever with a rash, is avoiding liquids, or has flu symptoms that improve but then get worse with a fever and cough, you should call your doctor immediately. Here are 10 cold and flu remedies for kids all parents and caregivers should know.
For infants err on the side of caution
Infants are still developing their immune system, so if you think a baby under two years old has the flu, you should seek medical help immediately, especially if they are unable to breathe or eat, produce no tears when crying, or has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.
How to protect yourself from the flu
The absolute best defense against the flu is to get an annual flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone from six months of age upward gets vaccinated to reduce the risk of contracting the flu. If you do have the flu, talk to your doctor if you should take antiviral medications (like Tamiflu) to help shorten the time you’re sick or prevent complications. Check out these 10 natural flu remedies for symptom relief.