Medical expert explains how a healthy person can suddenly die from any flu and the difference between swine flu and regular flu

With news reports from and the Contra Costa Times saying that two more students at Concord’s El Monte Elementary have flu-like symptoms–and that swine flu is a possible culprit, I thought I’d direct you to’s medical blogger, Jan Gurley, who explains how to tell the difference between regular flu and swine flu and how either one can kill an otherwise healthy person.

Gurley, a board-certified internist physician and health writer, is writing in response to the May 29 death of Karen Perez, a 9-year-old at El Monte Elementary. At the time of her death, she had been suffering from swine flu and a secondary bacterial infection.

Gurley begins her post by reminding readers that many people die from the regular flu every year “and most of us probably assume that those afflicted are only the very elderly or chronically ill.” One thing about the coverage of the swine flu (more officially known as H1N1 virus) and the death of Karen is that both remind us that even seemingly healthy young people can die from the flu.

Here are some key points she makes in her blog, which you can read here:

–The “flu” we usually get is actually a cold.
–Flu, in contrast to a cold, is “often described as initially making you feel as though you’d been hit by a bus – a whole body ache that not many other things can cause. “
— On the other hand, swine flu is often described as NOT causing the whole-body ache.
— Regular flu also often comes with a high fever of 101 degrees plus.
— Any illness that progresses rapidly can kill you, whether its regular flu or swine flu. “So maybe you’ve had one day of the aches, a low grade temp and a little nausea—but if you progress in that one day from a wee bit of nausea to puking constantly, having watery diarrhea, and getting dizzy when you stand, you’ve got to help soon.
–“Any illness that makes you feel short of breath means you need a prompt evaluation.”
–With word that Perez also suffered a secondary bacterial infection, Gurley explains that this can happen with flu: “First, flu of all kinds causes your body to pump out flu-fighting glycoproteins (called cytokines) and special immune cells. This physiologic response is very specific to viruses. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of -your body’s eager flu reaction is that it can leave you very susceptible to bacterial infections.
–Her bottom line: “If something that feels like the flu is burning through your friends/famly/social group, be sure to watch yourself and others for rapidly progressing symptoms, an inability to keep fluids down (or in!), any shortness of breath, and any “new” symptoms after four to five days.”

2 thoughts on “Medical expert explains how a healthy person can suddenly die from any flu and the difference between swine flu and regular flu

  1. If you have a flu and get dizzy when you stand, you're dehydrated and need IV fluids now. You don't 'feel' dehydration, and it's easy to become dehydrated without knowing it.


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