This has been one of the longest flu seasons in ten years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's estimated 25 million Americans have been affected.
But did you know the flu can attack your heart? Meet one man who nearly ended up on the heart transplant list and why he warns not to ignore the signs.
Alfino Donastorg has always been active, but two years ago he got sick.
"I thought it was just a common cold," the restaurant manager said.
When he became short of breath, he ended up in the hospital.
"They were telling me my heart was failing, heart transplant is imminent," he recalled.
Donastorg had cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that led to congestive heart failure at age 38.
"He was a healthy young man who was just exposed to the flu, and it attacked his heart," cardiologist Dr. Yordanka Reyna said.
Reyna says the flu causes inflammation that can quickly lead to cardiac symptoms.
"Shortness of breath, leg swelling, a cough at night," Reyna said.
Reyna says heart disease due to flu can happen to anyone, so if you think you have the flu, get help.
"Go to the emergency room, go to their doctor's. They will be tested very easily and very fast," Reyna said.
Reyna worked to keep Donastorg off the heart transplant list.
"We managed to get him better with intravenous medicines, diuretics," Reyna said.
Donastorg still can't believe how close he came to death.
"Your body tells you, 'Hey, listen, there's something that's not right, please get checked out,'" Donastorg said.
His message to everyone: Don't ignore the signs!
Donastorg will continue to be closely monitored and will most likely be on heart medications the rest of his life. He says his next goal is to travel to Japan and climb Mount Fuji.
Reyna reminds everyone to get vaccinated for the flu every season because the strains change. She says if you do have the flu and you're taking an antiviral medication like Tamiflu but don't improve within a week, call your doctor or get to the emergency room.
HEART AND THE FLU: KNOW THE SIGNS
BACKGROUND: Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times lead to death. Flu is different from a cold and usually comes on suddenly. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk and then lands in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. People with flu are most contagious in the first 3 to 4 days after their illness begins. Some healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time. (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm)
FLU AND YOUR HEART: A 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed there is a heart/flu link. The study found that heart attacks are six times more likely in the seven days following a flu diagnosis. It also noted that heart attack risk increased slightly for those over 65 and that 69 percent of study participants had not received a flu shot. Researchers from UT-Houston found that the flu shot probably reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke or sudden death by as much as 25 percent. They estimate that 90,000 coronary deaths a year could be prevented in the U.S. if more heart patients received flu shots. Cardiac patients are at no higher risk of getting the flu than everyone else. However, because they have heart problems, they are more likely to get sicker with the flu. "Sometimes when people are feeling ill, maybe they're having nausea and vomiting, they don't take their heart medications as prescribed," Keith Vasenius, DO, an interventional cardiologist at Medical City Fort Worth, said. It's important for heart patients to continue taking any medications their doctor has prescribed, which includes blood pressure and cholesterol medications. (Source: https://medicalcityhealthcare.com/blog/entry/flu-and-your-heart)
NEW DISCOVERY TO TREAT INFLUENZA A: A team of researchers have discovered an orally active small molecule that neutralizes influenza A group 1 viruses, the most common flu strains. "What's exciting is that this molecule has the potential to target different strains and subtypes of influenza virus," says co-senior investigator Ian Wilson, PhD, Hansen Professor of Structural Biology at Scripps Research. Not only do influenza A type 1 viruses account for many of the seasonal flu strains, he says, but also pandemic strains, such as H1N1 and H5N1. Researchers have been striving to use these super-antibodies, known as broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs), to develop approaches which could lead to universal flu vaccines and treatments. However, antibodies themselves are large molecules that can only be given through injections, never as an oral drug, which makes them impractical for treating patients at home. A more practical drug would consist of a small molecule that recognizes the HA stem in the same way as the antibody. In addition to pointing towards a potential strategy for the design of new drugs to treat influenza, the new work opens the door to designing other antiviral drugs using a similar antibody-inspired approach. (Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/sri-sda030819.php)