Odd Enough Why does it seem like the flu is killing so many young people this year?

A 40-year-old marathoner recently died just two days after being diagnosed with the flu, per the San Francisco Chronicle, and a 21-year-old aspiring personal trainer recently made headlines after dying of the flu just a few days after Christmas.

It seems like every day we’re hearing terrifying new stories of otherwise healthy people dying of the flu.

A 40-year-old marathoner recently died just two days after being diagnosed with the flu, per the San Francisco Chronicle, and a 21-year-old aspiring personal trainer recently made headlines after dying of the flu just a few days after Christmas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t releasing up to the minute data on flu deaths just yet, but the organization did report that the flu caused nearly 6 percent of all deaths in the U.S. the week ending November 11.

The flu comes in many strains and this year’s predominant strain is H3N2, a strain that caused the deaths of 745 people with confirmed cases of the flu in Australia last year, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. (The five-year average of flu deaths in the country is 176 per year, the paper says.)

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H3N2 is known as a particularly bad strain of the flu, and it tends to cause more severe illness and complications like pneumonia and death, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security. However, the basic symptoms—fever, chills, cough, a sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue—are the same.

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While the flu vaccine is important for protecting people against the flu and decreasing the complications they may experience if they do contract it, traditionally, vaccines don’t work as well against H3N2, Adalja says.

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Anyone can die of from the flu, but flu deaths usually impact young children and the elderly the most.

So, why are healthy, young people dying of it? “This year has been particularly severe compared to last seasons and we are seeing more people who have influenza clutter up emergency room departments, and we tend to see a higher rate of hospitalizations,” Adalja says.

But, while we’re regularly reading stories of young people dying from the flu, Adalja says it doesn’t seem to be more than normal. “The majority of people who die from seasonal influenza tend to be very young and very old,” he says.

“These are rare occurrences and because they’re rare, they will often grab headlines.” Still, he says, it’s important that young people don’t ignore symptoms of the flu and assume that because they’re young they’ll be fine.

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There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of developing the flu and serious complications from it. One is to get the flu shot. Yes, it may not keep you from actually getting the flu, but it can lower the risk that you’ll have serious complications if you do happen to contract it, Adalja says.

 “We’re at the peak of the season, but we still have several weeks left,” he says. “There is some benefit to getting the vaccine, even this late in the season.” Another is practicing good hand hygiene, i.e. washing your hands well and often, especially after you visit public places. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)

Finally, if you suspect that you’ve developed the flu, call your doctor ASAP and, if your symptoms start to get worse, go to the ER. It could save your life.

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