Stephanie told BuzzFeed News that Joie seemed fine on Thanksgiving, but many of their family members got sick after the holiday. Joie went home sick from her warehouse job the next Sunday and went on Tamiflu, a drug designed to treat viral flu symptoms, the next day. But on early Tuesday morning, she felt worse and began coughing up blood. Her family took her to the hospital, and an X-ray showed that she had a serious case of pneumonia. Joie was given IV antibiotics, but her health kept deteriorating. While hospital staff moved Joie to the intensive care unit, her heart stopped. Despite being resuscitated once, she died at 3:25 p.m. that day.
“I still don’t understand how this happened to her so fast—she went from feeling a little sick on Sunday to going to urgent care on Monday and then being gone by Tuesday afternoon,” Stephanie told BuzzFeed News.
It’s definitely shocking. Most people who get the flu experience a mild illness and recover in less than two weeks, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s children younger than 5, the elderly, and pregnant women who are vulnerable to serious complications from the flu. Joie wasn’t any of those.
This is a reminder that serious flu complications and flu deaths can happen to anyone, says Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease physician and affiliated scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The flu is a pretty severe infectious disease in certain cases,” he says. “It’s not as innocuous as people think—it kills thousands of Americans each year.”
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While the exact impact of the flu varies from year to year, in the last several years, the influenza virus has caused between 9.2 million and 60.8 million annual infections and between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations in the United States. Flu deaths in the United States have ranged from a low of 12,000 to a high of 56,000, according to data from the CDC. FYI, if you have the flu and experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or sudden dizziness, get your butt to the hospital, Adalja says.
Still, when it comes to the flu, prevention is always the way to go. “The flu is a contagious infectious disease and the only preventative measure we have against this virus is the flu vaccine,” Adalja says. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
If you feel like you’re too late to get the shot, don’t. Given that the flu shot’s effectiveness can wear off, there’s some evidence that getting it later in the flu season might actually make sense, Adalja says. But, he adds, you don’t know when you might be exposed to the flu, so it’s best to just get the shot as soon as you can. Like, right now.