CBSN

Flu raises risk for more severe infection - sepsis

Maya Cargile is a healthy eighth grader, but four years ago she almost died after a battle with the flu led to sepsis.

"Anything that could possibly be painful or could be wrong, was wrong," Cargile told CBS News.

She had developed a fever of 104 and was lethargic. Her mother, Lisa Cargile, took her to the hospital.

"She wasn't breathing on her own; her blood pressure dropped, and that was when she was had to be put on life support," Lisa Cargile told CBS News.

At that point, doctors put her in a medically induced coma for three days.

Sepsis affects more than a million Americans each year. It's an infection that can develop when the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection.

Those chemicals can cause inflammation and permanently damage organs. In some instances, as the infection progresses, it may cause blood clots in the extremities, which may require amputation.

Immediate treatment with IV fluids and antibiotics is critical, so recognizing the symptoms could be life-saving. Doctors say while anyone can develop sepsis, the elderly and those on immune-suppressing drugs, like chemotherapy, are at a highest risk.

Dr. Steve Peters, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, told CBS News that while it's rare for the flu to lead to sepsis, there may be more occurrences this season. This may be especially true because this year's flu vaccine is not completely effective. Additionally, many patients are skipping the vaccine altogether, which puts them at higher risk for flu - and sepsis.

"When the flu is more severe or if it's not covered by that seasonal strain of vaccine, then the chance that that could occur is more likely," Peters told CBS News.

It turns out that Maya did not get the flu shot the year she developed the flu and sepsis, and both mom and daughter are grateful for her recovery and say they've learned an invaluable lesson.

"I think the worst part was knowing that had she gotten the flu shot, she maybe would not have gotten sick or she would have not had the kind of reaction that she did," Lisa Cargile said.