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A Doctor on the Front Lines of Flu Season

Dr. Allan Greissman, a pediatric critical care specialist in Florida, discusses the extent of this deadly flu season and how to keep your family safe.


The year’s flu is, per the CDC, on track to be one of the deadliest in nearly a decade. In California alone, 100 people have died and only three of them were over the age of 64. All told, 37 children have died. Nationally, the CDC expects to see 2.2 percent of outpatient visits in this season to be flu-related. During the week of January 14th to January 20th, the actual percentage of flu-related doctor visits was three times that rate at 6.6 percent. Thirty-nine states reported high “influenza-like-illness” activity and the spread in 49 states and Puerto Rico has been reported as “widespread.”

Dr. Allan Greissman, a pediatric critical care specialist at Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, has compared this year’s outbreak to only one, infamous predecessor: the swine flu. Greissman works exclusively on the most severe cases of pediatric illnesses and surgeries, and every year expects to see an uptick in patients who visit due to dehydration or high-grade fever from the flu. But this season is far more severe than even he ever imagined.

Dr. Greissman talked to us about the worst cases he’s seen, why the flu needs to be taken more seriously, and why it’s still not too late to get your flu shot.

This year has been so much more intense than we’ve seen in the past five to 10 years, not just in the number of patients, but how sick the patients are who come in from the flu.

The most common reason for a child with the flu to be admitted to Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida is dehydration and high-grade fever. A child or baby will be dehydrated because they can’t drink enough water. They have such a fever that they’re burning off so much water that they become dehydrated. Many of them also have upper respiratory infections, like bronchitis.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Flu Season and Kids

There’s a small percentage of patients who are in with a lot more serious complications, such as pneumonia, or heart, liver, and kidney problems. Babies that are a few weeks old are coming in with the flu. They’re too young for a flu shot, and Tamiflu at that young of an age can be difficult.

When I tell the parents how significant the flu is, they’re like “Really?” I say, “Don’t you watch or listen to the news?” And they just look at me like I’m from another planet because they have no idea about what a bad flu season this is.

There’s no treatment for the flu. There’s nothing you can do once you have it. We took care of a young lady named Jenny who had flu-like symptoms a few years ago. When she got sick, she went to a pediatrician with flu-like symptoms, just like the whole world does. She got sicker, and she spiraled downwards very, very quickly, which happens a lot with viruses like this. Her organs were failing. We put her on temporary life support on a machine that takes over the function of the heart and the lungs. She was in the hospital for months with heart and lung problems. She had kidney failure and was placed on dialysis. She was probably the sickest patient you can imagine who survived from the flu. She did not get a flu shot.

There was a boy in Palm Beach County who was perfectly fine during the day and that night he went to the hospital and died a few hours later. There was a woman who was about to be married who got sick and within a day died.

The flu can affect any organ in your body. Typically, we think of the flu and we think of fever, headaches, and muscle aches. Your heart is also a muscle. The flu can cause your heart to have abnormal rhythms, or give you pneumonia that’s unlike bacterial pneumonia because it is a virus. The flu can affect your kidneys and cause your kidneys to shut down. It can affect your liver and give you viral hepatitis.

As important as the flu vaccine is, it’s never 100 percent effective. More importantly, so many children and adults are not getting the vaccine. That is very troublesome. Hurricanes are commonplace in South Florida. This year, we had a really bad hurricane that destroyed South Florida. Thank god the majority of people took it seriously and prepared. But the ones that didn’t, suffered. Now they’re going to learn, unfortunately, when there’s a hurricane coming, you need to be prepared.

If there’s a bad flu outbreak and you’re being told about it, why haven’t you gotten the flu shot? What are you waiting for? It’s never too late. Think about statistics. Even if the flu shot is just 30 percent effective, that’s 30 percent more of a chance of not getting it.

Preventing the flu is the simplest thing in the world. People laugh at it, but it’s true: practice good hand washing and carry around hand sanitizers. And if you’re sick and have a cold, stay home. Don’t go to the mall. Don’t go to school. Stay out of crowds and movie theatres. And get your flu shot.

— As Told To Lizzy Francis