Healthy 59-year-old mom dies from flu complications

GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WTVR) -- At 28 years old, Heather Stagg is dealing with the loss of her mom, who she said died as a result of complications from the flu.

"They said that the flu had triggered the double pneumonia, which then triggered the septic shock because her body just couldn't fight it off," said Stagg. "I miss her, that was my best friend."

The family said that 59-year-old Linda Simkins Stagg was healthy and she got the flu shot every year.

"She was never sick [usually]," said her husband, Jim Stagg. On Saturday morning, she went to the hospital and she died Saturday night, he said.

That same weekend, Kevin Baynes Jr., age seven, also went to the doctor. Baynes' parents took him to the Gretna Emergency room Saturday, reported affiliate WDBJ, where he was diagnosed with strep throat and the flu.

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Healthy 59-year-old mom dies from flu complications
A Virginia family says 59-year-old Linda Simkins Stagg was healthy and she got the flu shot every year before she was diagnosed with the flu.
A Virginia family says 59-year-old Linda Simkins Stagg was healthy and she got the flu shot every year before she was diagnosed with the flu.
A Virginia family says 59-year-old Linda Simkins Stagg was healthy and she got the flu shot every year before she was diagnosed with the flu.
A Virginia family says 59-year-old Linda Simkins Stagg was healthy and she got the flu shot every year before she was diagnosed with the flu.
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Doctors sent him home with medication to treat his strep throat. On Sunday, around 8 a.m., his older sister went in to check on him in bed and found him unresponsive.

If the child's flu death is confirmed, it would be the first child in Virginia whose death was attributed to the flu this season.

Both deaths came within 24 hours, or less, of their visits to the hospital.

Because of the timeline and symptoms leading up to Linda's death, the family reached out to CBS 6, hoping to spread the word to warn other.

"A week ago, I had just gotten out of the hospital," Stagg said.

His emphysema keeps him in and out of the hospital.

"She was there every day for four days," he said.

On Wednesday Linda didn't feel well and said she was getting a sore throat.

On Thursday, "she said her throat was getting worse."

Friday was spent laying down and Linda didn't have a fever but continued to feel badly so they went to the hospital, where she tested positive for the flu.

Jim said that within hours her condition worsened.

"Three hours in the emergency room, all of a sudden they said they had to take her to ICU," Jim said.

By 10:30 p.m. Saturday, he lost the love of his life.

"It killed my wife," Stagg. "I mean she was 59 years old."

Jim wants everyone to know if you feel sick go to your doctor, don't wait.

"I don't want anybody else to go through this," he said.

More widespread than H1N1

"We're seeing more widespread activity than we've seen since the H1N1 pandemic in 2009," said Dr. Michael Stevens, the Associate Chair in the Division of Infectious Diseases at VCU Medical Center.

"One of the circulating viruses, because there's multiple different viruses that can make up influenza, is a particular nasty version of the virus called H3N2. That can be particularly hard on the elderly and young kinds," said Dr. Stevens.

Related: Inside this year's season

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2018 flu season in the US
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2018 flu season in the US
Emergency room nurse Kathy Nguyen wears a mask as deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Doug Hasselo, 87 of Carlsbad, California, is treated for the flu by float nurse Nellie Reyes in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, gets an IV from emergency room nurse Christine Bauer at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Richard Horner wears a mask as he deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A doctor hold a syringe as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Boxes of vaccines against the flu are seen as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
PORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 29: Troy Ali, 21 of Portland receives a flu shot from Greater Portland Health medical assistant Anissa Millette at the clinic in Franklin Towers on Cumberland Ave on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Staff Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Vials of the Fluvirin influenza vaccine are displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Health experts also believe this year's flu vaccine is only about 30% effective for H3N2 strain.

But doctors, including pediatricians, say the vaccine is the best way to lessen the severity of the virus.

How the flu turns deadly

This flu season is fierce and has already claimed the lives of at least 37 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 11,965 laboratory-confirmed flu-related hospitalizations reported from October 1 to January 20. The number of people infected with influenza is believed to be much higher because not everyone goes to their doctor when they are sick, nor do doctors test every patient.

Added to those scary stats, the World Health Organization estimates that annual flu epidemics result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness globally and 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.

Although the fever and aches may feel terrible, most of us don't die from the flu. So how exactly does this common illness lead to so many dying?

"Influenza and its complications disproportionately affect people who are 65 and older. They account for 80% of the deaths," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

But young children and people who have an underlying illness, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, are susceptible to dying from the flu as well, he said. There are three ways adults can succumb:

Pneumonia

"The usual flu death is a person who gets influenza, gets all that inflammation in their chest, and then has the complication of pneumonia," explained Schaffner, who added that this is a "long, drawn-out process."

Pneumonia is an infection that causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Though this is the most common route to death, flu can be fatal for more unusual reasons.

Sepsis

"Much of the systemic symptoms that any of us have with influenza -- the fever, the aches and pains, the sense of exhaustion -- all of those are part of (our body's) response to the virus," said Schaffner. The symptoms we experience are an inflammatory response to the immune system "soldiers" that our body sends to fight any pathogen, he said.

"Pushing the war analogy, we all know there is incidental damage that occurs during the course of a war," said Schaffner, and so the flu can also take a perfectly healthy person "and put them in the ER in 24 to 48 hours."

Flu stimulates an immune response in everyone's body, but for some people, this natural response can be "overwhelming," noted Schaffner. "Young robust people can have such an overwhelming response that it's called a cytokine storm." Cytokines -- proteins that are created as part of the inflammatory response -- create a "storm" in the body, explained Schaffner: "And this cytokine storm can actually lead to sepsis in the person."

Related: Best hospitals

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US News: Best Hospitals in the US 2017
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US News: Best Hospitals in the US 2017

20. Mayo Clinic Phoenix

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19. NYU Langone Medical Center, New York

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18. Mount Sinai Hospital, New York

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17. Duke University Hospital, Durham, North Carolina

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16. Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Philadelphia

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15. University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora

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14. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, Pittsburgh

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13. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago

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12. Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis

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11. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

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10. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia

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9. Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital, Stanford, California

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8. New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York

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7. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles

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6. University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, Ann Arbor

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5. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco

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4. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

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3. Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore

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2. Cleveland Clinic

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1. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

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Kyler Baughman, 21, is one example of that happening. He died unexpectedly in December at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh after a bout with the flu. Baughman, a college student, worked two jobs and often posted pictures of himself at the gym on social media. The cause of his death, as reported by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, was influenza, septic shock and multiple organ failure.

Heart attack

Chances of a heart attack are increased sixfold during the first seven days after a flu infection, a new study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found. The study looked at nearly 20,000 cases of flu in Ontario adults age 35 or older.

The risk may be higher for older adults, said Dr. Jeff Kwong, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario. Heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is abruptly cut off; this is also called acute myocardial infarction.

Since a few days usually elapse between getting sick and getting a lab test, Kwong said "the increased risk is probably within the first 10 days or so after exposure to the virus."

The research, which identified 364 hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction among the flu cases studied, also showed a stronger association for influenza B than influenza A. "We would have needed more cases to determine if the difference was real or just a chance finding," said Kwong.

Though the new study did not identify the reasons why flu might lead to heart attack, Kwong and his co-authors theorize that infectious illness may cause inflammation, stress and constriction of blood vessels, which increases blood pressure.

Threats to children

The overwhelming majority -- 99% -- of children under age 5 who die from flu-related illness are in developing countries.

Children in the developed world may not face such high risks, but they are still vulnerable if they develop flu. Sepsis resulting from flu can cause the death of very young children, said Dr. Flor M. Munoz, an associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Children have different risks depending on their age," said Munoz, and the most worrisome ages are "infants in the first year of life and those under 5 years of age."

"What's different from adults is children have a lot of opportunities to not only be exposed to flu but also to spread the flu," said Munoz. In general, children are the first to get sick when flu season begins, mainly because they are in school and playing with others -- and spreading germs.

Related: Foods to eat when you're sick

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Foods to eat when you're sick
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Foods to eat when you're sick
Your daily multivitamin: leafy greens

If you’re looking to sustain long-term health, think about loading up on green smoothieskale salads, and collard chips. “Leafy greens are incredibly nutrient-dense,” explains Manolas, explaining that deep green leaves offer maximum nourishment—they’re full of fiber, vitamins A and C, and B vitamins. And if they’re bitter, even better. “[Bitter greens] are invaluable to your health,” she says, adding that they reputedly aid in digestion by increasing hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach, reducing heartburn, and supporting the second phase of liver detoxification.

Your Emergen-C replacement: red pepper

“In my humble opinion, red [peppers] are one of the finest raw foods to eat,” Manolas notes. Snacking on red peppers with hummus or adding them to salads provides your body an immunity boost via a mega dose of vitamin C (not to mention carotenoids, fiber, and vitamin E). You’ll still get benefits if you eat your peppers cooked, but too much time over heat can cause nutrient loss, so it’s best to stick to a quick stir fry or char on the grill. Fill your fridge with extra peppers during cold and flu season—the vitamin C will help boost your immune system and ward off unwanted illness.

Your stress aid: parsnips

Parsnips are the new carrot; spread the word!” raves Manolas. The complex carbohydrate aids in brain function and serotonin production, which may help you to reach a state of calm more quickly. Do you usually reach for a plate of fries in times of stress? You’re in luck. Roasted parsnip wedges taste just as good as the spud version—with added health benefits. (And they cook quickly.) The mineral-rich veg also supports healthy bones, blood cells, and (bonus!) clear skin.

Your flu remedy: coconut oil

No one wants to be hit by the flu (and miss boxing class, giving “down for the count” an entirely different and meaning), so stopping it in its tracks is crucial. And while a doc may prescribe antibiotics, the flu is a virus, so you’ll want to load up on antivirals, too. That’s where coconut oil comes in. The healthy fat is incredibly heat-stable, so it maintains its antiviral properties whether you are roasting veggies in it or adding a teaspoon to a cup of tea. (Don’t knock it til you try it.) “A teaspoon of coconut oil in a cup of herbal tea is wonderfully soothing while beneficial for whatever ails you,” assures Manolas. Have a sore throat or nasty cough? Coconut oil can help to soothe and lubricate your throat, too. “All hail our hairy little friend of the plant kingdom!” she says. Amen.

Your nausea relief: ginger

If you have an upset stomach, ginger just might come to your rescue faster than you can get your hands on over-the-counter relief. “Ginger is powerful,”  Manolas emphasizes. “Studies have shown ginger to be a strong remedy for nausea, including sea sickness and morning sickness.” But there’s no need to limit your ginger relief to a stomach ache. The zingy root contains a powerful compound called gingerol, which reportedly helps with quelling period crampsbloating, and indigestion, and keeping bacterial infections at bay. Whether you’re adding it to stir fries and salad dressings, or pureeing it into juices and smoothies, a little bit of ginger can go a long way when it comes to your health.

Your headache cure: lemon water

There are many causes of headaches, but dehydration is most often the culprit, Manolas says. She recommends adding lemon juice to a bottle of water for effective relief. Not only does the added flavor encourage you to drink more, but the bitter citrus is said to help detoxify the liver and aid digestion.

Your cold medicine: pineapple

Who needs a spoonful of sugar when you can replace less-than-tasty cold medicine with fresh pineapple? Manolas loves the fruit’s candy-esque flavor, but can’t get over its vitamin profile, either—it’s packed with vitamin C. Another feather in pineapple’s cap? “[It is] the only naturally occurring source of bromelain, an antioxidant, super anti-inflammatory enzyme,” explains Manolas. The combo of vitamin C and bromelain may make pineapple a knockout when it comes to sinus and respiratory inflammation. And Manolas has a brilliant serving suggestion: top raw pineapple slices with finely grated ginger for a snack that your body will love just as much as your tastebuds d

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"They can be completely healthy and still have problems with the flu," said Munoz. "The flu shot doesn't offer the same protection as it does for adults."

This is due to the lack of "immunologic experience" that children have. The immune system in infants is "still developing and it has different responses, let's say, to new things," said Munoz. "Young children will not necessarily have the same response that older children, adolescents or adults have." The same is true for very old people, said Munoz: "That's just a normal way the immune system works."

However, the worry whenever a young child or infant gets flu symptoms, including fever, is that they might have a more serious infection occurring at the same time. "Young children at that age can have meningitis, pneumonia, bacterial infections, not necessarily flu-related," said Munoz. "One needs to be more cautious."

"Certainly, we do tend to see secondary infections," said Munoz. So a child will start with the flu and the irritation in their noses and throats leave them exposed to more germs and so they develop another bacterial infection --- ear infections, say, or sinusitis or pneumonia.

With the child's immune system already fighting the flu and then another bacteria on top of that, sepsis may be the result. These are the cases we hear on the news, said Munoz, "previously healthy children that don't feel well and in a day or two they die of some complication."

Another threat? Though children and adults experience the same symptoms when sick with the flu, children are more likely to get diarrhea and to vomit. This can lead to dehydration in infants and small children, Munoz said, and it can be life-threatening at such a young age.

What do parents need to know?

"Every year we're going to have the flu. Every year we have anywhere between 50 and 100 deaths of children from the flu," said Munoz, who is also a member of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "This is something to be taken seriously."

Parents can make sure their children are vaccinated, she said. "As a mother, if you have something at hand that can protect your child, why not?"

"It's a very safe vaccine -- it is not true that you can get the flu with the vaccine," she added.

Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC's Domestic Flu Surveillance team, supported Munoz' view. "We want to continue to emphasize that there's still a lot of flu activity to come, people that haven't been vaccinated should still get vaccine," said Brammer. "We may be getting close to the peak of this wave, it's not unusual to have a second wave of influenza B come through."

The flu shot is admittedly imperfect, Schaffner said, but there are still benefits. "If you get the vaccine and you have a flu-like illness, it's likely the illness is less severe," he said. "Data show you're less likely to get pneumonia and less likely to die."

If a child, especially a small one, becomes sick, parents should visit a doctor or health care provider who may prescribe medication, said Munoz.

Related: Sources of vitamin C

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10 Surprising Sources of Vitamin C
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10 Surprising Sources of Vitamin C

One large orange, or an eight-ounce glass of orange juice, contains about 100 milligrams of vitamin C—that’s 130 percent of the daily recommended intake for women over 18. Whether you have trouble tolerating the acidity of citrus or just can’t stomach the thought of chugging another glass of OJ, here are some other tasty options that offer as much C—or more.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Red Pepper

One sweet red pepper: 152 milligrams of vitamin C (203 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Kale

One cup of raw kale: 80 milligrams of vitamin C (107 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Strawberries

One cup of strawberries: 97.6 milligrams of vitamin C (130 percent daily value)

Bonus! The same amount of frozen strawberries has 105.6 milligrams of C.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Broccoli

One cup of cooked broccoli: 101 milligrams of vitamin C (135 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Potatoes

One large red potato or sweet potato: 36 milligrams of vitamin C (48 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Brussels Sprouts

One Brussels sprout: 13 milligrams of vitamin C (17 percent daily value)

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Papaya

One papaya: 185 milligrams of vitamin C (247 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Coffee

One eight-ounce mug of Green Mountain Coffee’s new Antioxidant Blend K-Cups: 6 milligrams of added vitamin C (8 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Cabbage

One cup of cooked kohlrabi: 89 milligrams of vitamin C (119 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Kiwi

Two medium kiwis: 141 milligrams of vitamin C (188 percent daily value)

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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By treating illness, antiviral drugs become a second line of defense against serious consequences. While most otherwise healthy people will not need to be prescribed antiviral drugs, those who may benefit from these medications are "people who are high risk, the elderly, children under 2, pregnant women and people with chronic health problems," said Brammer.

Antiviral drugs are known to work best when started within two days of getting sick. Studies show these drugs, which rarely produce side effects, can lessen symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick by one or two days.

"It's a brisk influenza season and I think it will end up being a moderately severe one," said Schaffner. "We'll take any bit of protection and prevention we can get."

CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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