If Your Flu is Really Bad, Go to Duke or UNC Hospitals

The flu season is here, and people are dying.

Last week in North Carolina, 11 people died from the flu, bringing the seasonal total to 33. (Source: NC DHHS.) Nationally, 39 children have died so far this season. (Source CDC.)

From Heart Health, Episode 153:

Dr. Frank Wefald: The flu report is here.  There are two things I want to talk about.  Number one, influenza A vs. influenza B.  We usually worry about influenza A, the H1N1, that’s the really bad one, while it’s covered by the flu vaccine.  But they usually only hit one influenza B.  OK.  They are very similar viruses.  They just have different proteins on the outside that we can use to target the immune system. 

Anyway, influenza B/Victoria, that’s a big one this year. 

And it’s surprising and usually influenza B is not as bad for you as influenza A.  You are going to see all these articles about young, beautiful women and young beautiful men dying of influenza B.  Now, it’s rare.  If you don’t have your flu shot it’s going to be riskier. 

There is a very, very bad story.  16-year-old Kalee Roberts.  She was doing well.  She hadn’t had her flu shot.  She started to feel achy with a little fever.  She sort of toughed it out for three days. 

She finally couldn’t breathe.  She was coughing.  She went to the Emergency Room, lungs filled with fluid because of the body’s hyper-reaction with inflammation against the flu virus. 

Kaylee Roberts.

She died a few days after showing symptoms. The full story of Kalee Roberts is at CNN. Photo credit: CNN.

That’s the problem with the flu virus.  It will trigger our immune system to over react and the lungs fill up with fluid.  There have been several patients who have been told, their families have been told that there is nothing we can do.  The lungs aren’t working. 

One of the things that I want to make clear is that there is always in that situation another chance and that’s called ECMO, extracorporeal oxygen membrane.  It’s like a heart/lung bypass machine.  You take the blood out of the body, you put it through the bypass machine, it gets oxygenated and put it back in.

The hospitals in our area with ECMO are Duke and UNC.

Flu Symptoms from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • A fever of 100.4F/38C degrees or higher or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children) Source: CDC.gov/flu

Dave Alexander: So, if you have a really bad flu, knock on those emergency room doors.

Dr. Frank Wefald: Or if you are in a hospital where they tell you that the lungs are so bad your daughter is going to die, ask them, can I get to the facility with ECMO? 

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