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The flu can be dangerous if left untreated

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The flu can be serious, with complications and loss of life distinct possibilities for the following groups: infants under 2 years of age, those over the age of 65, pregnant women, recent mothers (have given birth in the past 2 weeks), those with chronic health disorders, people with autoimmune deficiencies, severely obese patients (weighing over 100kg) and those with mental disabilities.
  • Pregnant women are up to 4 times more likely to contract the flu than the general population, and they are also more at risk of developing serious symptoms.
  • Patients with lung disease or emphysema are 100 times more at risk of developing serious complications than the general population, those with heart disease are 50 times more at risk, and diabetics are 5-10 times more likely to develop such symptoms.

 

Symptoms associated with the flu are generally thought of as being just slightly more serious than those of a common cold. However they can become dangerous, leading to complications and even loss of life. It is therefore crucial that we treat the flu with the respect it deserves, and receive treatment before it poses a serious danger to our health. We must seek medical attention as soon as symptoms develop in order to receive timely treatment that can halt the disease in its tracks. In this way, the dangers associated with the flu can be eradicated at the outset.

Certain groups are at greater risk from complications associated with a flu infection. These groups are referred to as high-risk and consist of:

  • Infants under age 5, especially those under the age of 2
  • Adults over age 65
  • Pregnant women and women who have given birth within the past 2 weeks
  • People suffering from heart disease, chronic liver disorders, chronic kidney conditions, and other chronic conditions.
  • Those with autoimmune deficiencies, including people who are on immunosuppressant drugs or are undergoing a course of chemotherapy
  • Severely obese people (weighing over 100kg)
  • Mentally disabled individuals

Complications arising from a severe influenza infection usually include the following symptoms: chronic ear infections, sinusitis and bronchitis. However, more serious flu infections may result in pneumonia, which is particularly severe and dangerous in patients already suffering from conditions such as lung disease or emphysema. Patients with these conditions are 100 times more at risk than the general population, patients with heart disease are 50 times more at risk, and diabetics are 5-10 times more likely to develop dangerous complications. This is because chronic health conditions often result in immune system weaknesses that hamper the body’s fight against disease. Furthermore, pregnant women are 4 times more likely to contract the flu than others, and these infections are more likely to develop severe symptoms which could affect their pregnancy, sometimes resulting in premature birth, miscarriage, or even loss of life for both mother and child.

There are a number of other, less common complications resulting from flu infections, including myocarditis, peripheral neuropathy and encephalitis. The safest thing to do is to seek medical treatment as soon as symptoms of the flu develop, regardless of whether or not you belong to a high-risk group. The longer an infection is left to develop, the greater the chances of severe complications. Fortunately, there is now a new channel available to patients seeking speedy diagnosis and treatment for a flu infection—the Samitivej Virtual Flu Clinic. This online medical consultation service offers round-the-clock access to medical professionals from anywhere in the world.

Seeking timely diagnosis and treatment not only helps to reduce the likelihood of dangerous symptoms (especially crucial in high-risk patients) but can also decrease the total number of people suffering with general flu symptoms such as headaches, high fever or general aches and pains. In addition to lowering the risk of spreading the disease to those nearby, timely diagnosis helps in making a swift recovery.


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References
  • Allen UD et al.Can J infect Dis Med Microbiol 2006;17(5):273-284
  • Hyden FG&Pavia AT.J Infect Dis 2006;194:S119-126

 

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Tul Sunathvanichkul, M.D. Summary: Internal Medicine Internal Medicine