Flu: Always Trying to Avoid Partying like It's 1918

That a 57 year old man died from influenza should come as no surprise, even if that man is named Prince. While it is not confirmed that Prince actually succumbed to true influenza—people use the word “flu” for a variety of conditions--his tragic loss should serve as a reminder that influenza is not a benign illness but a major infectious disease killer responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans yearly.  Just hours before Prince’s death was announced to the world, a friend of mine was baffled over the death of a young police officer in my own county from influenza.

People die from influenza when it progresses to severe pneumonia blocking the ability of the lungs to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream. This phenomenon can occur with primary viral pneumonia caused by influenza or via a secondary bacterial pneumonia. Also, those with severe illness who are hospitalized are at risk for downstream complications of that hospitalization such as kidney failure or pulmonary embolism, for example.

As of this writing it is unclear what the circumstances of Prince’s death were and the nature of his illness, but it is said he was battling flu for weeks leading me to speculate he may have had a secondary complication of some sort.

While this year’s flu season has been late-peaking and relatively benign (thanks, in part, to a well-matched flu vaccine), there have been many severe cases around the nation. In its latest weekly report (covering through April 9) on flu the CDC relates that 7.5% of deaths reported in the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia/influenza – above the threshold value expected for this time of year. Additionally, 10 pediatric deaths were reported for that same week.

This is what it sounds like when flu kills.