A Healthy 21-Year-Old Died From The Flu & Here’s How You Can Protect Yourself

by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Flu season is in full swing, and this year's particular strain has grown to dangerous proportions. A 21-year-old died from the complications of the flu in Pennsylvania just a few weeks ago, according to The Washington Post. Kyler Baughman, who The Post described as “the face of fitness,” was an aspiring body builder who passed away from “organ failure due to septic shock caused by influenza” shortly after visiting his family for Christmas this year, according to Pittsburgh news channel WPXI. Though Baughman’s flu-like symptoms around Dec. 23 were described as pretty mild, his runny nose and fatigue quickly progressed to chest pains, a high fever on and off, and coughing. WPXI reported Baughman was first taken to an emergency room on Dec. 28, but was airlifted to UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh where he died less than 24 hours later. His family said they believed he had not received his annual flu shot.

In the wake of their son’s death, Baughman’s family is encouraging people to take the flu more seriously this year. “I just think he ignored it and thought it’d go away like most people, and I think people need to pay more attention to their bodies," Baughman’s mother told WPXI. Todd Baughman, Kyler’s father, also added, “Try and know your body. Don't let things go. Whenever you have a fever for multiple days, don't let it go, get it taken care of.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), explained to Bustle earlier this fall that the common influenza could be more severe this year in the U.S. based on Australia’s flu season, and experts are now saying that it has reached "epidemic" levels. The flu is estimated to be widespread in at least 46 states, and has contributed to thousands of hospitalizations. Moreover, the CDC reported that between December 9 and December 16, pneumonia and influenza-related illnesses accounted for 6.7 percent of the deaths in the United States.

Though the U.S. is well into flu season, there is still time to get your annual flu shot — and it can still help you avoid this dangerous illness, as well as make the flu milder if you do catch it. The flu shot is not as effective on the common flu strain H3N2 as it was in previous years, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, who was quoted in Business Insider. Even if you don't have health insurance, free flu shots are offered all over the U.S. at pharmacies like CVS, grocery store chains, and local colleges. If you’ve been lucky enough to not contract the virus yet, keep practicing good hygiene to protect yourself from the flu. Washing your hands for twenty seconds multiple times per day, taking regular showers, and wiping down common surfaces can help keeping healthy. Additionally, avoiding public spaces when you can may help you avoid the flu as well.

Most importantly, if you feel are beginning to have flu-like symptoms, try to proactively take care of your health and avoid spreading it to others. According to WHO, most people recover from majority of severe flu symptoms within a week, but they can last for up to two weeks or more. Some of the earlier symptoms of the flu include fatigue, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, and even a mild fever. If you start to notice these symptoms, the CDC recommends treating the flu with “antiviral drugs, if prescribed by a doctor,” taking “everyday precautions” like proper hygiene, and resting at home for at least 24 hours after the fever breaks. Don’t be afraid to seek medical attention if you’re not feeling better a few days into the flu: According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, adults should call their doctor if they feel short of breath, cough up mucus, experience chest pains, have a fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and start to feel dizzy, or pass out completely. If you do contract the flu, make sure to avoid contact with others, especially immunocompromised folks such as pregnant people, elderly people, infants and toddlers, and people who were unable to get the flu shot due to health reasons. These populations are far more vulnerable to complications from the flu.

You taking care of yourself will help ensure less people get sick and you don’t spread the flu to family member, friends, and co-workers. Not everyone has the luxury to stay home from work if they are feeling ill, but if you can, do. The flu can be spread to others within six feet of the person who is infected through droplets of saliva when you cough, sneeze, or talk.

The flu may be more severe this year, but that doesn't mean you should skip your shot, or not take the extra precautions to stay healthy. Listen to your body’s cues, and don't convince yourself that the flu isn't serious.