The Long Arm of the Flu Virus

Flu report


Last Friday’s weekly flu report from the Centers for Disease Control (above) told us what we didn’t want to hear:

… that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. In fact, we may be on track to beat some recent records … we could potentially see several more weeks of activity … one out of 10 people who died in the week that has passed died from influenza or pneumonia … these viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older.


The link to more severe illness can refer to the onset secondary infections, meaning the virus “opens the floodgates for … bacteria to invade their body,” as happened to this woman with MRSA. An example of this writ large is the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 (the so-called Spanish Flu) where “the majority of deaths were not caused by the influenza virus.… Instead, most victims succumbed to bacterial pneumonia following influenza virus infection.”

Second, the flu can exhaust healthcare resources allowing superbugs to breach infection control barriers. For example, this month’s VRE outbreak at an Ontario hospital was attributed to the virus:

We had a flood of influenza cases into the hospital and emergency department, and also there were a number of sister institutions that ended up having influenza outbreaks which meant long-term care nursing homes couldn’t take patients, chronic care facilities couldn’t take patients from our hospital so we had a back-up of patients and basically it put a lot of stress on our infection control practices.


The third way the flu virus reaches into our lives is more subtle: we’ll prescribe the wrong treatment for it – namely, an antibiotic – and suffer a severe side effect as a result. For example, the painful and often deadly C. difficile-caused diarrhea; irregular heartbeats and sudden death; tendon rupture; and drug interactions that have people end up in the emergency room.

This is especially so for seniors: As the CBC reports, a recent study found that nearly half of 185,014 Canadians aged 66 or older who go to a family doctor about a cold or other non-bacterial respiratory infection leave with a prescription for an unnecessary antibiotic.

It may sound trite but it’s also true: If you have the cold or flu, antibiotics are not for you. Here’s a chart from the CDC that nicely summarizes things:


ABX relevance 4








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