Just a few days after Thanksgiving, Alani Murrieta’s family and friends were stunned to learn that she had died from the flu. After all, the 20-year-old, who was a mother to two small children, was very active, worked six days a week, and socialized over the holiday.
Flu deaths are commonly associated with the very young and old, as well as people with compromised immune systems, making Murrieta’s death all the more perplexing.
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According to her family, Alani, who was known to those close to her as “Joie”, had no known health conditions. In fact, she rarely ever got sick. But she had gotten sick at the same time many other people in her family did – Thanksgiving. After the annual holiday gathering, many attendees fell ill, but none of them has even come close to death except for the witty, vivacious young mom.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Alani was sent home from work as her symptoms worsened. By the next day, she wasn’t getting any better, and decided to seek medical treatment. She went to a local urgent care facility, and promptly began a course of Tamiflu.
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Tamiflu is a commonly prescribed antiviral that treats and prevents flu virus, and should be taken as soon as symptoms appear. While many people, as well as the manufacturer, point to studies and statistics that seem to confirm its virus-quelling capabilities, its critics are now repeating what they’ve been saying for years: it does not prevent death from the flu.
But maybe the drug didn’t even have a chance to work. Less than 24 hours after that urgent care visit, Alani was coughing up blood and experiencing difficulty breathing. Her family took her to the hospital right away, where doctors determined that her flu had rapidly progressed to pneumonia.
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As the hospital began her transfer to the ICU, Alani’s heart failed. She was revived and stabilized temporarily before her heart stopped yet again. Unfortunately, staff was unable to resuscitate her and she was pronounced dead shortly after.
From Flu to Fatal Pneumonia
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Viruses like the flu are responsible for nearly a third of all pneumonia cases doctors treat. Fever, difficulty breathing, severe congestion, chest pains, and a cough with fluid are the telltale signs that you need to get a chest X-ray right away. These are the same symptoms Alani had.
Alani was very proactive about getting treatment for her illness, but she did not get a flu shot. However, like Tamiflu, many are quick to state that flu shots are not a panacea for flu death.
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On average, the flu kills approximately 35,000 people per year. It’s estimated that the flu shot can prevent roughly 22% of these. The virus varies from year to year, though. For example, in 2009, it’s estimated that only 222 deaths (among thousands and thousands) were prevented. That’s more like a 7% reduction in death.
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You should still use vaccines and Tamiflu where recommended, but since they are no guarantee that your flu will blow over just fine, it’s a good time to brush up on wellness protocol. This, in fact, is where things may have gone wrong for Alani.
On top of cleanliness factors like handwashing, it’s absolutely vital that you stay home if you’re not feeling well. Do not hug or speak too closely with people who are ill to any degree. Don’t share drinking glasses or utensils, visit a doctor as soon as you suspect flu, and from there, rest. Alani likely picked up her bug at a family gathering, and proceeded, as so many of us do, to try and power through her illness at work.
Alani’s family still can’t believe their outgoing, intelligent, and capable young Joie was taken so quickly by the flu. While her death was wholly unexpected and devastating tragedy, it’s a harsh reminder that the flu is nothing to sniff at – no matter how healthy you think you are.