This year’s flu season is in its infancy, but one Hudson Valley teenager is encouraging area residents to get their flu shots after she nearly died from flu-related symptoms.
Last year, 13-year-old Rebecca Berak, of Poughkeepsie, tested positive for influenza and within hours of her diagnosis, her fever spiked to 106-degrees. Her influenza led to necrotizing pneumonia, throwing her body into sudden shock, acute respiratory failure and kidney failure.
With uncertainty about whether she would survive, Berak spent weeks on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma in Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and with the care of infectious disease specialists and pediatric intensivists, she pulled through, going home after six weeks and 10 weeks in rehabilitation.
“Influenza can cause painful headaches, sore throat, congestion, body aches and lack of energy, and in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure or sepsis, among others,” Sheila Nolan,, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, said. “The best and most effective defense against contracting the flu and these serious complications is receiving your annual flu shot before the onset of the season.”
According to health officials, “Berak’s near-death experience emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible, but for those who delay, it is still beneficial to receive the flu vaccine once flu season has begun.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year’s flu season had a "moderate severity." The season ran from October 2018 to May 2019, with activity increasing in November and peaking mid-February. It's 21-week duration made it the longest flu season in 10 years.
Young people, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for the flu and for contracting other diseases once their immune systems have been compromised. However, 50 percent of the children who die due to influenza each year were previously healthy kids with no specific risk factors for severe disease, according to Pediatrics, the journal of the Academy of Pediatrics. Among healthy children, there is no way to predict who will suffer very severe disease and even death..
The CDC estimates that flu has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses each year in the United States and several deaths. Of those illnesses, an estimated 9 percent were hospitalized.
It takes approximately two weeks following the vaccination for the antibodies to protect against the flu to develop in the body, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall, before flu season begins.
CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, though there is still time to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season, even into January or later.
According to the CDC, the flu infects the respiratory tract. “As the infection progresses, the body’s immune system responds to fight the virus.
"This results in inflammation that can trigger respiratory symptoms such as a cough and sore throat. The immune system response can also trigger fever and cause muscle or body aches. When infected people cough, sneeze, or talk, they can spread influenza viruses in respiratory droplets to people who are nearby. People might also get flu by touching a contaminated surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.”
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