Archive

Posts Tagged ‘dangers of flu’

Take it From This Mom, the Flu is No Joke

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment
blog-a-thon-badge
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has organized a Flu Blog-a-thon, calling for immunization supporters to post content about the importance of flu vaccination.  We are honored to share Immunize Nevada’s special contribution, which is a powerful story shared to help educate parents about the dangers of flu.

 


 The Flu is No Joke, by Mikalee Byerman

 

The words “just the flu” need to be eradicated from our lexicon.

Because this? This is the flu.

Untitled design (1)

There’s no “just” about this. It was terrifying. It was the most helpless I’ve ever felt as a mommy. And it was potentially deadly.

My baby, 4 years old and so very tiny, is the real face of the flu.

I rushed her to the emergency room one midnight a few weeks ago because she was suddenly having trouble breathing. She had been home sick from school with a fever all day, and I even took her to her doctor earlier that afternoon fearing it might be the flu. But he didn’t even test her, because, as he assured me, “I haven’t seen any flu yet this year.” What he did see were signs of an ear infection, so he sent us home with antibiotics.

But just eight hours later saw the onset of spasms that rocked her whole body as she struggled for air. I’ll never forget the empty look of lethargy behind her eyes, contrasting against the sheer effort it took to inhale breath. She was so sick, and I knew we couldn’t wait until morning. By the time we got to the ER, she was hypoxic. The definition of hypoxia:

When your body doesn’t have enough oxygen; this is a dangerous condition. Without oxygen, your brain, liver, and other organs can be damaged just minutes after symptoms begin.

It was there we were tested and learned that this was all due to the flu.

All told, I easily could have lost my baby if I had waited a few more minutes to rush her to the ER. And in terms of the far less important (but very real) financial impact, I just received a bill for $11,427 in the mail.

All because I was “too busy” to get our flu shots just yet — because I was sure I still had ample time. I was “too busy” juggling all the stuff of single mommyhood — kids’ crazy schedules, career, marketing my book, setting up speaking engagements, planning a surprise vacation for my family, taking care of all the day-to-day stuff — all things that seem so trivial now, that I completely overlooked something that could have prevented all this pain and suffering. Luckily, there should be no long-term medical issues though, and again, I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

But yeah, because I’m a single mom, this hospital visit will have long-term financial ramifications. And it was likely preventable. If only.

So in the aftermath of this life-changing event, I have new perspective and a few takeaways about the flu:

bryerlee3

1. We need to stop calling everything that is not the flu “the flu.”

As a culture, I feel like we’ve become desensitized to the seriousness of the flu, because we say we have the “stomach flu” when we spend a few days throwing up. But hey, here’s a fun fact: There’s NO SUCH THING AS STOMACH FLU — influenza is a respiratory illness, whereas when people throw up a lot, that’s a gastrointestinal illness. So please, call a stomach bug just that — a stomach bug or stomach virus. It’s not the flu.

2. If you’ve ever had the flu, you KNOW YOU’VE HAD THE FLU.

I hear people sometimes say something like “I think I might have a touch of the flu,” or “I think I had the flu a few days ago, but I’m good now.” Nope. Doesn’t happen. The flu is like death, but with the unfortunate complication of still being alive. I can say this because, of course, since I hadn’t scheduled a flu shot for my kids, I also had skipped my own — which means I too came down with the flu, while in the hospital holding a bedside vigil for my toddler. I spent two days sitting next to my sick daughter, not being able to sleep except on a hard-as-nails fold-out torture device called a “hospital cot,” while suffering from the flu myself. Fever, chills, never-ending achiness all over my body, a throat that felt like fire — It. Was. AWESOME.

And I’ll never forget the pain, the sleeplessness due to the pain or the mere longevity of it (I started Tamiflu right away, which typically shaves a day or two off of symptoms — but I was still sick for eight solid days). There’s no guesswork about the flu — you have it, or you don’t, and if you do, you KNOW.

3. Let’s say you could get a quick and painless vaccine to prevent all this. Spoiler alert: You CAN!

The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it increases your likelihood of not contracting the three or four predicted strains for a given season. And as a mommy who just watched her tiny toddler suffer for days in the hospital and then be quarantined for many more in our home, I can say this: If I could increase her likelihood of NOT getting the flu by pretty much any percentage in exchange for a shot, I would take it. And according to the CDC: “While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 percent and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” Forty to 60 percent? Yeah, I’ll take it.

4. The flu shot does not give you the flu. Just stop saying that.

If you happen to get the flu right after getting the shot, that’s quite the unfortunate coincidence, but keep this in mind: It takes only one to four days for symptoms to appear after you contract the flu, and it takes up to two weeks for the body to build antibodies. So if you get the flu within these windows, chances are you already had the flu and/or your body wasn’t fully protected yet. It is NOT because you got the shot. That’s simply not possible. Some people do experience relatively minor symptoms immediately following the flu shot, but that is; a) not the flu, and b) likely just your body’s immune system reacting to the vaccine as it should, and symptoms subside rather quickly.

MikaleeSo if you’re a busy parent, this blog is for you. Or if you think that a flu shot doesn’t work, or isn’t “worth it,” or that your child will get over it because it’s “just the flu,” I hope you keep this baby in mind. 

Because take it from me: I would have done anything to prevent our 10 days of hell. I’m pretty sure you would do the same for your kids, if given the chance. And you have the chance.

Please, make time for the flu shot. Today.

Mikalee Byerman is the author of this post and the VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group, one of Immunize Nevada’s communication partners. She is also a freelance writer and mom to three kids, all of whom have now received their flu shots — and will every year moving forward, on or before Oct. 1.

 


Other Flu Blog-a-thon participants include the following:

To further support the CDC’s efforts to promote flu vaccination, join in on the #FluStory Twitter Storm, beginning December 6 at 1 pm ET.  To encourage vaccination and emphasize the seriousness of flu, @CDCFlu is asking participants to share their experiences with having the flu using the hashtag #FluStory.  By tweeting about missing major life events to facing a serious illness, we can highlight the impact flu has on our communities and create a storm of support around flu vaccination.

What Signals the Start of Flu Season?

Vaccinate-Family-300x250

One might think that flu season starts with the arrival of vaccine in the local pharmacy or provider’s office.  Others might believe that flu season in the U.S. begins with the first case of lab verified flu.  While flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months,  influenza activity can begin as early as September or October and last as late as May.

The CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (like outpatient visits of influenza-like illness, lab results and reports of flu hospitalizations and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, than “flu season” is said to have begun.

In preparation for flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kick off their annual flu vaccine campaign each September with a special press conference which emphasizes the importance of flu vaccination.

The reality is that influenza is difficult to predict. No one knows when it will peak, how many people will suffer or die, or even how effective the flu vaccine will be.

However, what experts do know is that the flu is inevitable, yet preventable.  Every year there is suffering, hospitalizations and even deaths, but much of that could be prevented if more people were protected through annual vaccination.  2017 Flu News LBE

 

Flu is a fickle and unpredictable virus. 

This was the message Dr. Bill Schaffner delivered during the news conference last week.  Since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. typically range from 140,000 to 710,000 each year, killing between 12,000 and 56,000 people each year.  While the exact number may differ drastically from year to year, this just highlights how dangerous and unpredictable influenza is.

Now is the ideal time to get a flu shot. You want to be vaccinated weeks before possible exposure, because it can take about two weeks post-vaccination for your body to build the proper immune response from the vaccine.

Everyone should consider flu vaccination – even healthy individuals.

Flu Fact of the Week

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.  It not only helps to reduce the risk of flu illness and serious complications for the person getting vaccinated, but it also helps to reduce the amount of flu circulating in the community.  By reducing the incidence of flu, we can help protect those who might be more susceptible to serious flu illness, such as young infants too young to get vaccinated, pregnant women and older individuals who may be more susceptible to flu infection, and individuals with certain medical conditions, like heart disease, asthma and diabetes, who are at increased risk of complications from flu.

Too often people mistakenly believe that if they are healthy they don’t need a flu vaccine.  Or, they don’t realize how dangerous the flu can be and consider it akin to a bad cold.  However, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness with no cure.  Once the virus takes hold, all we can do is treat the symptoms.  While antiviral drugs are recommended to try to lessen symptoms and shorten the time one is stick by a day or two, the reality is that influenza must run it’s course.  This is why Dr. Northrop could do nothing but watch while his otherwise healthy adult sister succumbed to influenza and died.

Why choose vaccination if it can’t guarantee you won’t get flu?  

We often hear people explain that they won’t get a flu shot because it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get the flu.  While it is true that the flu vaccine isn’t a 100% guarantee, the annual flu vaccine is  typcially about 40-60% effective.  Therefore, getting your annual flu vaccine means you will reduce your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60% as compared to someone who does not get vaccinated. It also means that flu vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and death (especially among children and older adults).

As an example, last year’s flu vaccine effectiveness was deemed to be approximately 42% effective overall.  While that may not sound overly impressive, it is estimated that flu vaccination last year prevented about 5.4 million cases, 2.7 million flu-related doctor’s visits and 86,000 hospitalizations last season.  But last year only about 46.8% of the U.S. population 6 months and older received a flu vaccine. Now imagine if more people had been vaccinated. The CDC estimates that if overall flu vaccination coverage had been just 5 percentage points higher, another 490,000 illnesses and 7,000 hospitalizations could have been prevented.

What determines flu vaccine effectiveness?  

Read more…

Trivializing the Flu – It’s What Healthy Adults Tend To Do

September 27, 2016 47 comments

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,

Read more…

147 Kids Died From Flu Last Year. My Scarlet Was One of Them.

December 7, 2015 55 comments

Rebecca Hendricks, Every Child By Two‘s newest parent advocate, decided to share this guest post on Shot of Prevention after connecting with us on our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

I never imagined that jumping on Facebook to catch up with friends would have me reliving the worst day of my life.

12336412_1734258090136116_829364839_nMy five-year old daughter, Scarlet Anne Taylor, died as a result of influenza last season.

She was the first child out of 147 who would die from flu in the 2014-2015 season.  She passed away on December 19, 2014, in Tacoma, WA, just 48 hours after the onset of symptoms and within 4 hours of when she arrived at the hospital.

It all happened so quickly that I still struggle with the reality of it all.  One day she was sent home from school with a fever, the next day she was pronounced dead before we even knew the cause.  It wasn’t until I received a call from the medical examiner a week and a half later that I would come to learn that my daughter had died from influenza (H3N2).

I was on Facebook back in October when I saw this chilling post on Every Child By Two‘s  Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page.

Last week marked the official end of the 2014-2015 flu season. Sadly, the season was marked by 146 pediatric deaths. Of those 146 children, we know the vaccination status of 123 of them – 14 were ineligible for vaccination due to age, 15 were vaccinated, and 94 were unvaccinated. As we begin the 2015-2016 season, we urge every one to get a flu vaccine. No matter what your age, the flu can be dangerous and even deadly. A flu vaccine is your best defense. 

(Sadly, another death was reported to the CDC  following this post, which brought the total number of children who died in the 2014-2015 season to 147.)  

To be completely honest, prior to Scarlet’s death I was not aware of the dangers of the flu, the symptoms of the flu, or the fact that influenza could be deadly to an otherwise healthy child.  I thought the flu shot was a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money. I thought the vaccine was more likely to give you the flu than prevent it.  I thought the vaccine wasn’t necessary because everyone who got the flu got over it. I thought it was no big deal.

To say I was mistaken is an understatement.  

In the months since Scarlet’s death I can’t help but wish I had known more.  If only I had identified her symptoms as influenza sooner.  If only I had known how dangerous the flu could be.  If only I had gotten my family vaccinated.  Is it possible that I could have done something that may have saved her life?

12285905_1734258000136125_398305480_nAs I approach the anniversary of Scarlet’s death, I think of the sweet, beautiful and vibrant child that once graced this earth.  Only a parent understands the absolute love you have for your child and the monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect them at all costs.

I still feel her presence everywhere, but mourn the fact that I can no longer see her.  Touch her.  Or protect her.

Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that a zillion times, and you’re still not even close. The medical examiner should have written a death certificate for me as well, because when Scarlet died, a part of me died too.

I almost feel like less of a mom now. Or just not entirely whole anymore. Incomplete.

The shape of my family has changed. It’s been almost a year since Scarlet left us and yet I still find myself questioning how I’m supposed to respond when people ask me how many children I have.  I have 3 kids now. But I had four.

Just a few weeks ago, we went to a restaurant and I ordered four kid’s meals. Then it suddenly occurred to me… Read more…

The Flu as a Triple Threat

August 23, 2013 2 comments

The one thing that is certain about the flu is that it is extremely unpredictable.  It’s impossible to predict the severity of the flu from patient to patient and there is no way to anticipate just how many people will be infected, hospitalized or even die as a result of the flu each season.  While estimates of influenza associated deaths range from 3,000 to 49,000 per year, who’s to know for certain what this year’s figures will be.

But one thing is for sure.  When the flu hits you or your family, statistics won’t really matter too much.  Take Tammy’s story as an example. 

TammyShotByShotTammy was surprised by a phone call in the middle of the night and the unfortunate news that her grandmother was hospitalized with the flu.  Having been very close to her grandmother, Tammy was quite distraught and rushed to be by her side.  Her worry soon turned to grief as her grandmother succumbed to influenza the next day.

As hard as it was for Tammy to accept her grandmother’s sudden death, what happened next was completely unexpected. Read more…