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The flu is usually only a temporary illness, which most people recover from. But in some instances, flu complications can leave a person fighting for their life.

For most people, the seasonal flu may leave them feeling miserable for a few days. But for others, the flu can have life-threatening complications.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for flu complications each year.

Flu Basics

Season flu is a common illness, which affects between about five and 25 percent of people in the United States each year. Most people will feel the most intense symptoms, such as fever, headache and muscle aches, for a few days. Lingering symptoms including fatigue may last for a week or two.

The seasonal flu is a respiratory illness, which is caused by different flu viruses, such as the influenza A, B, and C virus. There are also subtypes of each strain. Certain strains are more prevalent certain years. According to the World Health Organization, influenza A and B are most common and are included in the seasonal flu vaccine each year. Although the influenza C virus also may cause the flu, it is much less common than the other viruses.

The typical flu season starts in October or November and peaks in about February. The flu is very contagious and is spread through breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person. Respiratory droplets can occur when an individual sneezes or coughs into the air. It can also be spread by touching a surface, which is infected with the flu virus, then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.

Symptoms often start with a fever and headache. Muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite are also very common. Some people develop a cough, sore throat and runny nose. Nausea and vomiting may also develop and are more common in children.

What are Possible Flu Complications?

Although the flu can make you feel like you are dying, most people recover in a week or two with no lasting effects. But for some people, the flu causes complications, which can lead to hospitalization and a fight for their life, and some people will not survive.

Complications from the flu can be relatively mild to lethal. Even otherwise healthy adults can develop complications.  Flu complications, which can occur include sinus and ear infections. Bronchitis, which is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs, can also develop due to the flu. Dehydration is also a possibility, especially in children.

More serious complications can include both viral and bacterial pneumonia.

Infections can spread to the heart and include pericarditis, which is an inflammation around the heart. Myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, can also develop.

Infections, which develop as a result of flu complications, may travel beyond an isolated organ, such as the heart or lungs.  Infections can become wide spread in the body and lead to a condition called sepsis. Sepsis occurs due to the inflammatory response, which may develop after an infection.

One of the most severe flu complications is acute respiratory distress syndrome.

This syndrome causes problems breathing and is life-threatening. Patients who have acute respiratory distress syndrome are usually placed on a mechanical ventilator to assist with breathing.

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