“I got there at 12 a.m., and by 3 a.m., they were telling me I only had 24 hours to live,” Smith told WFAA.
Smith had developed an extremely dangerous complication from the flu — sepsis and pneumonia. Sepsis can cause organs to shut down in the body, and that’s exactly what was happening to Smith.
Sepsis can be fatal if not treated quickly enough, regardless of gender, age or health. A 21-year-old bodybuilder recently died from sepsis that developed from the flu. Fortunately for Smith, doctors were able to save his life, but his fingers and toes are a different story.
Smith told WFAA that while he was in the hospital being treated for kidney failure, pneumonia and sepsis, doctors gave him drugs to help with his blood pressure. “As a result of the drugs from the high blood pressure that they gave me, it left me with compromised limbs,” he said.
Now most of his fingers are black and blue, his hands surrounded by bandages.
While he can’t speak to this particular case, Daniel P. Eiras, MD, MPH, assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases & Immunology at NYU Langone Health, explained that although very rare, it’s entirely possible for the flu to cause these effects.
“When you get the flu, your body’s immune system is fighting off a severe infection,” Eiras told Men’s Health. “Your blood pressure drops, and it makes it difficult for your body to get blood to places like certain organs and the tips of your fingers and toes.”
Eiras explained that this loss of blood can cause necrosis, which is essentially the dying of tissue. “This would cause the limbs to become gangrenous, which is why an amputation would have to happen,” he said.
Developing sepsis from flu complications is rare, especially for people outside of the vulnerable populations (the elderly and the very young). It’s even more rare for sepsis to lead to necrosing limbs.
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In the event that you do get the flu, there are steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t become something worse.
“Cold and flu symptoms can be very similar, especially in the beginning,” Eiras said. “If you feel something come on and you think it might be the flu, go into your doctor and get tested. If you have the flu, there are medications your doctor can give you.” These medications are more effective in earlier stages, so the sooner you go in, the better.
As far as preventing yourself from getting the flu in the first place, Erias said there’s one thing everyone must do. “Get your flu shot. If you’re over 6 months in age, you should have your flu shot,” he said. “If you haven’t gotten it yet, it’s not too late. Go get it. It could save lives.”
Smith told WFAA that he’d gotten his flu shot, but still got the flu. However, that isn’t an excuse to not get one.
“There’s a chance you could still get the flu even if you get your flu shot,” Eiras said, “But getting the shot is still the best preventative measure you can take.”
Besides getting your flu shot, there are everyday habits you should be doing to lower your chances of getting the flu. “Make sure you do things like cough into your sleeve and wash your hands frequently,” he said. “And don’t come into work if you’re sick.”