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Influenza Complications Possibly Associated With Death of Pop Star

The untimely passing of pop music icon, Prince, is a somber reminder of the serious risks that can accompany an influenza infection.

The untimely passing of pop music icon, Prince, is a somber reminder of the serious risks that can accompany an influenza infection.

Influenza is a respiratory infection largely spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near a susceptible person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthy adults who are infected with the flu are able to infect others as early as 1 day before symptoms even develop, and up to 7 days after becoming sick. Signs of an influenza infection include fever, headache, cough, body aches, nonproductive cough, and sore throat. In children, additional signs may include ear ache, nausea, and vomiting.

With a late start and a vaccine that is approximately 60% effective, this year’s flu season has been relatively mild. However, the risks associated with an infection are still as deadly as ever, particularly for those individuals who are at highest risk for complications. According to the CDC, those at highest risk for complications following an influenza infection include:

  • People with asthma
  • People with diabetes
  • People with heart disease and those who have had a stroke
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have HIV or AIDS
  • People who have cancer
  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old

Most people who become infected with the influenza virus experience only mild symptoms and should recover within two weeks, according to the CDC. Those individuals who are at high risk, however, may develop complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, that require hospitalization.

While Prince’s cause of death is still under investigation, the singer was treated at a Moline, Illinois hospital last week after battling influenza for “several weeks.”

In addition, influenza infections can worsen chronic health problems, such as asthma and congestive heart failure (CHF). Individuals with asthma may experience asthma attacks, while those with CHF may experience a worsening of the condition. Even a mild case of these chronic conditions increases an individual’s risk of experiencing flu-related complications should they become infected.

If an individual does become infected, there is the possibility for them to be treated with prescription antiviral medications such as:

  • Tamiflu® (generic name oseltamivir): available as a pill or liquid, typically taken for 5 days.
  • Relenza® (generic name zanamivir): an inhaled powder, typically taken for 5 days.
  • Rapivab® (generic name peramivir): administered intravenously by a health care provider for 15-30 minutes.

Due to the potential risks involved, the CDC “recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.” While this year’s flu season is winding down, individuals can still get vaccinated as long as the virus is still circulating in the community.

Editor’s Note: Although it was initially speculated that Prince died of influenza, it has since been confirmed that the singer died as a result of an opioid overdose