The number of flu-related deaths continues to climb as Canada enters peak flu-season.
Blaine Ruppenthal, a 17-year-old from Winnipeg, Man. died after spending more than a month in a medically induced coma due to complications from Type A influenza. According to a Facebook group set up by Ruppenthal’s family, the Kelvin High School senior went into cardiac arrest twice on Dec. 7, 2019, and was being treated with hypothermic therapy.
“He was a beautiful, smart, kind boy,” Ruppenthal’s aunt Mary-Anne Clarkee told CBC News.
Ruppenthal’s passing serves as an unfortunate reminder of how quickly the flu can become fatal.
Flu season 2019-2020
Earlier this month, Health Canada’s weekly FluWatch report confirmed there have been 560 hospitalizations due to influenza, with 60 admissions to intensive care unit (ICU) and 10 deaths. The report notes a dramatic increase in laboratory flu detections between Dec.15 and Jan. 4, with 9,119 reported cases of influenza occurring, bringing this season’s flu total to 12,547.
A majority of reported flu cases (69 per cent) have been influenza A, which can be further categorized into two subtypes: H3N2 and H1N1. Although Canadians of any age can contract any strain of flu (A,B or C), experts often associate H3N2 with those over 65, while H1N1 is considered to have a “more youthful profile.”
In Canada and the United States, experts have noticed an increase in cases of influenza type B, which has been linked to a higher hospitalization and mortality rate in children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a report regarding an outbreak of influenza type B (B/Victoria) that has eclipsed other strains of flu for the first time in 27 years. The CDC noted that the increase in type B cases is occurring earlier than expected, something also noted by infectious disease experts in Canada.
So far, the CDC estimates there have been 4,800 flu-related deaths in the United States, up 65 per cent from last year, and nearly 87,000 hospitalizations, with months left to go before the end of the 2019-2020 flu season.
Flu shots are recommended for everyone six months old or older, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, to help protect yourself and prevent the spread of illness. Flu shots can be obtained from your primary care physician, nurse practitioner and participating pharmacies.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get the flu, no matter your age. There are however, a higher risk of complications for people over 65, people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, children under five-years-old, toddlers and infants.
The flu is marked by an abrupt onset of symptoms such as fever, fatigue, weakness, chest, discomfort, headache and chills. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea often occurs in children, but can occur in adults. People may experience stuffy or runny nose, loss of appetite or sore throat, which can often cause them to believe they have a cold.
What to do
The first thing to do is avoid exposing others to the virus, which is highly contagious. Health Canada advises anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to contact or visit their healthcare provider, and take the proper precautions such as wearing a mask, to minimize exposure to others.
Complications and emergency situations
As the influenza virus attacks the respiratory system, it can lead to inflammation, making it more difficult for oxygen to reach blood vessels. Common complications include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), and brain (encephalitis).The weakened immune system can also allow for secondary infection to occur, increasing the risk of sepsis, which can lead to multiple organ failure.
Immediate medical attention is required should you begin to experience shortness of breath, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, persistent abdominal pain or pressure, severe muscle weakness, high fever or fevers that last longer than three days, low blood pressure, seizures or dehydration (lack of urine).
The CDC advises parents seek emergency care should their child develop blue lips or face, dehydration (no urine, no tears when crying, dry mouth) fever above 39°C (102°F) worsening fever or cough or lack of alertness. Children under 12 weeks of age should be taken for immediate medical attention should there be any sign of fever.