Trivializing the Flu – It’s What Healthy Adults Tend To Do
Sep 27, 2016

It’s not uncommon for healthy adults to skip their annual flu vaccine.  In fact, it’s estimated that only about 40% of adults receive an influenza vaccine each year – a preventive measure that the CDC recommends for everyone age 6 months of age and older, with rare exception.

While adults tend to understand that the flu can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly, they often don’t get vaccinated because they just don’t consider themselves at risk.

Why? 

I imagine it’s because we’re living in a time when modern medicine is so advanced.  The average American just doesn’t consider it likely that a healthy adult could die from something so common as the flu? One would imagine that those at greatest risk of death from flu would be young children, the elderly or people who have underlying health conditions, right?

ceciliaheadshot-250x378While it is true that there are certain demographics of people who may be more likely to suffer severe consequences from flu, it does not mean that a healthy adult is not also at risk of hospitalization or death. As Michael Pulgini explains, the flu is “aggressive, sneaky, and potentially deadly” and “no one is invincible” just because you are young, strong, or healthy.

You see, Michael is one of those healthy adults who refused the flu shot last season, citing that he felt it wasn’t necessary and suspecting it might make him sick.  Michael ended up contracting the flu, but recovered after about five days of body aches, fever, runny nose and cough.

But what continues to haunt Michael today is the fact that his wife also fell victim to the flu – but sadly, she never recovered.  

Michael now lives with the horrifying memory of watching his beautiful wife Cecilia suffer and die from the very disease that he had previously trivialized.

After Michael had recovered, Cecilia started to show signs of illness, such as runny nose, body aches and pains, and a weird symptom that caused her upper lip to swell.  She made several visits to the doctor, and the last visit occurred about eight or nine days after her first symptoms appeared.  This time, she was complaining of shortness of breath.  The doctor gave her an injection to help open up her airways, but within 30 hours Cecilia was in terrible distress and her breathing was very rapid and shallow.  A chest x-ray at the hospital showed one lung was completely covered in puss and fluid from an infection.

cecilialipDoctors explained that the influenza virus continued to replicate, hitting Cecilia full force and completely overpowering her body’s ability to fight off the infection.

They also told Michael something he will never forget;

If she had been vaccinated against influenza, there was a 90% chance she wouldn’t be here [in the hospital] like this.”

Sadly, Cecilia was put into a medically induced coma.  They intubated her and put her on a ventilator since she was unable to breathe on her own. All the while, Michael believed in his heart that she would pull through because she was young and strong.

But Michael was wrong.  He explains,

I watched my beautiful wife lay in that hospital bed fighting for her life for eight agonizing days. It was the hardest thing I have ever endured, worse than combat. Then her kidneys started to fail, and on the morning of the eighth day, at 7:30 in the morning, her body couldn’t fight any more. In the end, Cecilia died of pneumonia complications of her influenza virus.

It is painful to grasp that complications of the regular seasonal flu killed the perfectly healthy 45-year old love of my life. It seems impossible that this should happen in the 21st Century with all our modern medicine.  But what hurts the most is knowing this was likely preventable. We did not use the best medical tool we have available: an annual flu shot. I now know, too late, that the flu virus is aggressive, sneaky, and potentially deadly.  I will have to face the rest of my life without the woman I loved, because we trivialized the flu.”

Michael has shared Cecilia’s story in detail on Shot By Shot, and it is not unlike many of the other personal stories that are shared about the dangers of influenza.

Adults – even healthy adults – should know that the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older (to include pregnant women) get a flu vaccine to help prevent flu and the dangerous complications that can be caused by flu

While the timing of flu season is unpredictable, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and last as late as May.  It’s best to get vaccinated early in the season, since it takes about two weeks from the time of vaccination for the body to develop the antibodies that will help protect against influenza virus infection.

Michael explains, “My wish in telling Cecilia’s story is to let other adults know that no one is invincible because you are young, strong, or healthy. In San Diego County alone during the past year’s flu season, 67 adults died from flu, 25 of those were between 35-64. I wish I had known all this before losing my wife. For Cecilia’s sake, my message is: a flu shot can save your life.”

Visit Vaccinate Your Family to learn more about influenza and the vaccine that is recommended for everyone 6 months of age or older, to include children, preteens and teens, adults and pregnant women.  

You can also find out what’s new with flu for 2016-2017 and get answers to frequently asked questions about the upcoming season here.

Find out from your healthcare provider or pharmacist when the flu vaccine will be available in your area, and check out HealthMap’s VaccineFinder for more information on where to locate influenza vaccines for you and your family members. 

For Cecilia’s sake, get your flu shot!


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