This week the CDC reports a 5th pediatric flu death as we face a season, many have predicted, to be “severe.”
And in previous years, once healthy children and young adults fell victim to severe circulating flu strains prompting parents this year to fear the worse when it comes to theirs or their child’s flu symptoms.
Who can blame them. Flu symptoms can last up to 2 weeks, and most patients are told to go home and rest as antibiotics do not help fight the flu and symptoms will usually “resolve on their own.” This is true, but then why are some people..healthy people…dying?
To understand why people are often misdiagnosed for flu-related illness when something even more serious is occurring, let’s first list the common symptoms of the flu.
As opposed to a cold, in which symptoms are less severe and come on more slowly, the flu seems to hit you within hours. The fatigue may be the first symptom, followed by body aches, scratchy throat, cough, runny nose and fever. The fever could range anywhere from 100 – 106 F. The fever usually lasts 2 days and the majority of those affected by the flu will average symptoms from 3-5 days.
There are multiple ways to die from the flu. The most common cause is pneumonia. A secondary viral or bacterial infection can affect the already weakened lungs. Pneumonia can be deadly, especially if untreated. Symptoms of pneumonia are very similar to the flu: shortness of breath, cough, fever, fatigue, body aches, etc.
Respiratory failure from inflammation can be fatal as well. The flu virus affects the respiratory tree causing acute inflammation and distress of the tissues whose job is to bring oxygen to the blood. Additionally, other organs including the heart may become inflamed, impeding their duties.
Flu can increase one’s risk of heart attack and stroke. A study in 2007 found coming down with the flu doubled one’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
Moreover, having the flu could worsen any disease states already being battled. Hence a diabetic, if suffering from the flu, may struggle to control his blood sugar numbers.
Rarely, some may go into multi-organ failure as a result of septic shock initiated by the flu. This is what killed 21-year-old bodybuilder Kyler Baughman.
But one risk that doesn’t get discussed as much as it should is coming down with an illness during flu season and being mis-diagnosed, a “guilty by association” picture.
Four days before her death, 12-year-old Alyssa Alcaraz was sent home by an urgent care with a flu diagnosis when in fact she had a strep infection in her blood that put her into septic shock.
How will I know when the flu is turning deadly?
Since symptoms of the flu start to resolve in a couple of days, any symptoms beyond those few days should spark suspicions. These can include:
Understanding what the flu virus can affect and not underestimating its severity is paramount in preventing flu fatalities. If symptoms start improving after 2 days it’s a great sign!! However, any symptoms that either do not resolve, lag on for days, evolve into something worse, or recur are red flags that something more than the flu could be going on.
Most importantly, if one has not been vaccinated yet against the flu, they should still consider getting the flu vaccine.
You finally get your dream and are selected to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. You get to see Pat Sajak and Vanna White! You win a vacation to some country that you don’t really want to see. You cannot get the cash equivalent. You have to take 10 days off of work to take the free vacation you did not want. You discover that you have to pay the tax on the free vacation.
Or you win a free car. You have a perfectly functioning 3-year-old car. The free car was not really the car you would have selected. You accepted it because it was free. Then you see that you have to pay tax on the list price of the free car. You also discover that the collision insurance and Department of Motor Vehicles registration for the free car are significantly higher than for the car you currently own.
These are examples of why nothing is “free.” This applies to medical care as well. You may have to see the “health care provider” the government program or private insurer makes available to you. You don’t particularly want to see a nurse, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles with free health care. Oh well, you convince yourself that it’s okay because, just like that car on the game show, it was free.
Here’s a new spin on “free.” Yes, your medical care should be free – free from the restraints of government control. Free from the government rules that have raised the price of insurance premiums. The Affordable Care Act mandated ten essential benefits that all insurance plans must include free of out-of-pocket charges to patients. Of course, this does not include the initial out-of-pocket charge: the insurance premium. Insurance premiums shot up over the post-ACA year because the insurance plan has to cover conditions that the insured persons may not even encounter in their own lives. A glaring example is obstetrics coverage in a menopausal female. Preventive and wellness visits are also labelled as free.
Moreover, a recent AMA study revealed that over the last four years the competition in the commercial insurance market has decreased. In over 50 percent of metropolitan areas, representing about 73 million persons, one insurer has half of the market. The more concentrated the market, the higher the premiums.
Remember that free car? We all know and readily accept that car insurance does not pay for the gas and basic maintenance. So why should maintenance medical care be covered by insurance? Car insurance would be unaffordable for most car owners if it paid for gas, oil changes, new mufflers, radios, and batteries. Most states require drivers to have car insurance. If people can’t afford the insurance, they lose the benefit of owning a car.
Similarly, if you lose your health due to long waits or delayed diagnosis because the CT scan was not authorized or poor medication response because you had to take the formulary drug that was not the doctor’s first drug choice for you, the care is not free, but very costly.
The underlying message of free “health care” is disempowering. The message is that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. Empowerment is having control over our own lives. First, we take charge of our own health by thinking about the choices we make. We choose to not smoke, overindulge in food or drink, or engage in foolhardy behaviors. Second, we decide what is important for our own health. If you do not want insurance coverage for obstetrics or fertility treatment because you are 50 years old and do not want children, there should be a less expensive insurance product available to you. Third, we need to be free to choose our own doctor as well as the treatment the doctor—not the invisible third-party payer—recommends.
The promised free health care would increase the payroll taxes on all workers, even if that worker does not want that particular brand of free medical care. The next time you hear that medical care is free, just think about that “free” car that is the wrong color, is too small, has uncomfortable seats, inadequate headroom, and overall is not what you really want.
Dr. Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist. She is Immediate Past President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Her opinions are her own. This is an edited column that originally appeared at www.pennypressnv.com, reprinted with permission.