In a tragic story that makes headlines across the country: A fourth-grade Ohio girl died just one day after diagnosis with streptococcus and influenza.
According to a Facebook post from Mason City Schools, Sable Gibson was diagnosed Tuesday morning, went on a cardiac arrest on Tuesday afternoon and died Wednesday night.
Also, this week, reports of a New Jersey child who died of the flu earlier this month were posted.
While this year's flu season has been milder than last year, to date, 41 children have died across the country from influenza-related causes.
The number of influenza-related deaths varies widely from year to year, but even during a relatively mild flu season, the disease requires thousands of lives. The CDC reports that over a period of three decades that began in the mid-1970s, the number of deaths from flu in the US ranged from about 3,000 a year to 49,000 in a bad year.
The flu season of last year was particularly deadly, claiming his life more than 80,000 Americans, including a record of 185 children.
While most people will recover from a flu season, complications may arise, some of which may be serious or fatal. The disease can become fatal to all but is more dangerous for adults over 65 and children under 5 years of age.
How can flu lead to death?
The influenza virus itself can lead to death if it leads to severe breathing problems and severe dehydration. However, the most common scenario is a complication of the infection, explains Claire Bocchini, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children's Hospital.
He says bacterial pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu that leads to death.
"This is because the flu virus wounds the lungs and causes inflammation that then makes it easier for bacteria to invade the lungs and cause a very serious infection," Bocchini told CBS News. "Bacterial infection can make it difficult for children to breathe and their lungs are struggling to get enough oxygen for their bodies."
Another complication that can lead to death is sepsis. This happens when the body overcomes the infection. Septicemia can affect multiple organ systems, sometimes causing organ failure and leading to death.
Other rare complications of the flu that may be lethal include heart disease (or myocarditis), which can cause sudden death or heart failure and brain infection (or encephalitis), which can lead to seizures and dangerous swelling of the brain .
Young children and older adults are more at risk from these complications, as well as from pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes and neurological conditions.
When to seek emergency medical assistance
If the flu becomes serious, it is important to seek immediate medical help to avoid further complications.
According to the CDC, children's emergency warning signs include:
- Rapid breathing or difficulty in breathing
- Blue skin color
- Do not drink enough liquids
- It does not wake up or interact
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with rash
In teenagers and adults, warning signs may include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure on the chest or abdomen, confusion, dizziness and severe or persistent vomiting.
If you or your child have these symptoms, it is important that you get medical treatment immediately.
How to Protect Your Family
The best defense against flu is to get the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that anyone aged 6 months or older receive a flu vaccine every year. If you or your child have not received the flu vaccine yet this year, experts say it is not too late. The flu season peak in the winter, but it can remain in the spring.
While the flu vaccine does not guarantee that you will not get sick, doctors say it reduces the chances and if you get sick it may be less serious.
If you have a young child with flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches and fatigue, it is important to see your pediatrician see if there is an antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu (also available as generic oseltamivir), Relenza or Rapivab is required.
Other steps that CDC recommends for influenza prevention include:
- Avoid intimate contact with others, including hugging, kissing or hands.
- Get away from people before you cough or sneeze.
- Frequently wash your hands, especially after coughing, sneezing or bloating of your nose.
- Hang and sneeze on a tissue and then throw it away, or cough and sneeze in the upper sleeve of the shirt, completely covering your mouth and nose.
- Disinfect often touching surfaces and objects such as toys and cupboards.