Kyler Baughman seemed like a fit and healthy 21-year-old. He was studying to be a personal trainer. His Facebook page featured pictures of him working out, an inspirational quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a black skull melded to a kettlebell, emblazoned with the words “CrossFit, hard to kill.”
When he came to visit his family in western Pennsylvania for Christmas, though, he wasn’t feeling well. “We saw him the 23rd for our family Christmas get-together and we noticed he wasn't feeling well,” Beverly Baughman, his mother, told NBC affiliate WPXI. “He looked run down and had a bit of a snotty nose.”
His family thinks Kyler believed he’d be able to shake off whatever was ailing him. “I think he thought, I just got the flu, I'll be alright. I'll go rest a little bit,” his mother said.
He went back to work the day after Christmas, still sick, with an intermittent fever. He came home early because he wasn’t feeling well; his fiancée told WXPI he was coughing and said his chest hurt. Kyler went to the hospital the next day. He was flown to UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh and died less than 24 hours later on December 28 from complications related to the flu, according to his mother.
“Organ failure due to septic shock caused by influenza,” his mother said. "It doesn't seem real.” Kyler’s case is rare, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a flu virus infection in the respiratory tract “can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection.”
His family believes he didn't get a flu shot. While this year’s formulation is thought to be less effective for the predominant flu strain circulating, H3N2, health experts including the CDC still recommend that everyone get a yearly vaccine as it can make symptoms less severe for people who do still get sick and help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And it’s still not too late to get the vaccine.
Kyler’s family is sharing his story to encourage others to take the flu seriously. “Try and know your body. Don't let things go,” his father, Todd Baughman, told WPXI. “Whenever you have a fever for multiple days, don't let it go, get it taken care of."
The flu usually comes on suddenly and symptoms include fever or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor for advice or head to urgent care. Otherwise, stay home so you don’t infect other people.
Most people who get the flu recover in a few days up to two weeks, but some people develop complications like pneumonia or bronchitis, the CDC says. The CDC lists emergency warning signs that warrant a trip to the ER: Difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness, confusion, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, severe vomiting, and flu-like symptoms that improve but then come back with fever and worse cough. (Please don’t go to the ER if you're only mildly sick.)
There are as many as 56,000 flu-related deaths in the US each year, according to the CDC. People ages 65 and over, pregnant women, young children, and people with certain chronic medical conditions face higher risks of flu complications, but that doesn’t mean the flu shouldn’t be taken seriously among the young and healthy.
That’s the point a grieving family now wants to make to anyone who’ll listen. “I just think he ignored it and thought it’d go away like most people,” Beverly Baughman said, “and I think people need to pay more attention to their bodies.”
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