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Doctor: death of young, healthy person from flu, 'uncommon'

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3 2013 9:57 p.m. MST

MURRAY — With a community reeling from the unexpected death of a 16-year-old Provo boy who was reportedly fighting the flu and a staph infection, doctors said the death of a young, healthy person was "uncommon."

Dr. Douglas Dillon, who practices at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, said it's been a busy year for the flu, both in Utah and across the nation. There's been an increase in the past two and three weeks, even, with what he estimated as a 25 to 35 percent increase in those seeking treatment in the intensive care unit for flu.

Those with weak immune systems or chronic illnesses are more prone to seek hospitalization and develop a super infection, which is the flu combined with another illness such as pneumonia.

"The elderly are more prone as are people who have medical conditions," Dillon said. "The people who have a compromised immune system and are taking some kind of medication or steroids, chronically, are certainly at greater risk from developing super infection from the flu."

Parker McKay Allred, 16, died Saturday, reportedly from a combination of a staph infection and the flu. He was 16 years old, 6-foot-1, weighed 200 pounds and excelled at both football and water polo.

Dillon said he did not know any details of Parker's case and could not speak to what may have made his case fatal. Generally, though, it was not an outcome he would have expected.

"For a young, healthy individual without … any other medical problems to develop a super infection on top of the flu that would lead to ICU admission or even death, that would be uncommon and not the norm," Dillon said. "The majority of people who do have the flu feel miserable and terrible for a week to 10, maybe even 14 days, and most people get over the flu without any complications."

On Jan. 25, Parker began feeling ill with a fever. Within days he was just a "skeleton of his former self," according to a blog by his sister, Madison Allred. His family and community were left reeling.

In the blog kept by Madison Allred, she said it was the combination of the two illnesses that made for such a serious situation.

"Previously his body had been doing its job in fighting off the staph infection, until the flu was added to the mix," she wrote. "With all of this strain, his body was eventually losing to the bacteria of the staph infection and he now went into sepsis."

Dillon said one's body does have natural defenses to fight bacteria, but once it's compromised, it's easier for other bacteria to take hold and lead to pneumonia or sepsis, making it more difficult for the immune system to fight that off as well.

"Most of the complications that we see from the flu are people who have underlying respiratory illnesses or are developing an illness on top of that," Dillon said. "If you think that you have the flu and have a high fever or increasing difficulty breathing, I think those are two big things that you need to see your doctor or go to the emergency department for the flu."

Contributing: Emiley Morgan

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