Roy Exum: This Flu Can Kill You

Monday, February 12, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

About this time last week, a second grade teacher at an elementary school in central Texas felt like she was coming down with the flu. Heather Holland, a 38-year-old mother of two, got a prescription but when she arrived at her pharmacy and found out the meds would require a $116 co-pay, she decided instead to “cowboy up” and ride out the storm.

On Sunday morning, an otherwise healthy and vibrant Heather Holland died in an ICU and it is estimated by disease experts that she was one of 3,000 in the country who have been killed by a ferocious strain of the flu virus H3N2. When her husband found out on Thursday Heather had not filled the prescription, he immediately got the drugs, but within 24 hours she was in ICU. It was too late.

In the last 25 years I have learned to live with some individual health challenges and my parade of doctors would disown me if I didn’t take a flu shot and other vaccines that are available. I believe that I have had the flu twice this season and the second I detect the first symptom I go into emergency mode: strong antibiotics, steroid injections and BC powders by the 10-pound sack.

I know that of the 3,000 deaths since October, a full 90 percent of the victims were over the age of 50. I firmly believe I will live for many more years but anyone who thinks they are tougher than germs is nuts. Oh, I hope you are, but if you let a $116 co-pay decide a course of treatment that is stinkin’ thinkin’.

There is a shingles vaccine now available and – to hear folks tell it – you only need it if you had chicken pox as a kid. Others claim it is only effective about 60 percent of the time. I don’t know if I had chicken pox as a child and I’ll happily volunteer to be in the half where the vaccine works. Are you kidding me? Use any excuse you want not to take it but only if you take it will you know if it works.

Everybody my age needs the pneumonia vaccine. I had pneumonia once and I’ll do anything from getting it again. But I have a great friend who boasts he’s never taken any kind of vaccine and while I admire his bravery, I’m still turning my headlights on in the fog. I have yet to see some chum walking down the street wearing a medal that proclaims he didn’t take the flu shot and didn’t get the flu.

What is horrifying is the fact that last week the flu pandemic was worse than the week before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have no idea when this year’s season will end, but the virus is at a gallop that will break health records. With the exception of Hawaii and Oregon, every state in America has wide-spread illness and the hospitalization rate is 59.9 per 1000,000.

That means seven percent of the United States is wrestling with flu in some way. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert for the National Institutes of Health, told CBS you never know how bad the flu is until you can study the data at the end. “But if you put flu cases into different buckets, this season is very very serious in comparison.”

What is most uncanny is that what might be a mild case for one person can be lethal to another. Flu weakens the body and limits the lungs. If an infection occurs or pneumonia develops life-threatening symptoms can spread like wild fire.

In Thousand Oaks, Calif., Gabriella Chabot thought she had a cold but on Thursday her father posted on her Facebook page, “Today I experienced what no parent should … I lost my daughter …. An angel …. who would have been 15 on Feb. 16. California has had 74 flu deaths compared to 14 the same time last year.”

Medical professionals are advising patients to force fluids because flu victims are usually dehydrated. Due to a shortage of IV fluids (the industry in Puerto Rico was horribly crippled by hurricanes in 2017), many hospitals are urging patients to drink Gatorade.

Schools around the country are being closed for several days at a time to retard the spread of the virus and, while it is estimated a flu vaccine takes about two weeks before it is effective, hospitals around the country are still giving flu shots.

Last Monday in Little Rock the Arkansas Children’s Hospital saw 324 cases in its emergency room. Last year the hospital treated 3,000 cases of the flu but already this year there have been over 8,000 cases reported.

One doctor in Little Rock is treating as many cases as possible over the telephone as a way to stop the virus.  Dr. Jay Douglas Holland is taking a different approach in dealing with the spike in flu cases in an effort to halt exposure. "I go through a pretty thorough history about fever, body ache and sore throat," he told CBS News. "If someone has all of those, I feel comfortable treating them over the phone and we are not charging for that."

But then the key is taking the medicine. Don’t let a $116 co-pay get in the way of your life.

royexum@aol.com


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