It doesn't matter if you run marathons or play sports, when it comes to the flu, no one is completely immune.
That's the warning families of flu victims and health officials are hoping to spread throughout this year's flu season as the epidemic continues to plague the U.S.
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The flu is now widespread in every state except Hawaii and it has claimed the lives of at least 20 children, according to the CDC's latest report. California is being hit particularly hard, with reports of at least 27 deathsof people under the age of 65 in the state since October.
The virus that's predominating this year is Influenza A (H3N2), and that tends to be more severe. It affects the elderly and the very young, epidemiologist Lynnette Brammer, who leads the CDC's Domestic Influenza Surveillance Team, told Fox News.
But the flu can hit anyone.
"Sadly, we hear every year of people that were previously healthy and active and they get influenza and die and for reasons we don’t understand," Brammer said. "[But] if you get sick and you're not getting better...call your doctor."
Brammer says we're getting "pretty close" to the peak of flu season, but flu activity is likely to continue for several more weeks.
As the nation continues to fight the illness, some families are sharing their stories in hopes of preventing others from facing similar tragedies.
“We want to...make a change in some way,” Keila Lino, the mother of 12-year-old flu victim Alyssa Alcaraz, told Fox News. “It’s not fair. We know it’s not fair. We don’t want revenge. We want changes."
Read Lino's story and those of other victims lost this year because of the flu.
Emily Muth, 6
When Emily Muth started feeling sick, her parents took her to an urgent care location, where she tested positive for the flu.
The doctor handed the 6-year-old's mother, Rhonda, a prescription for Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication, and told the little girl to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Three days after her flu diagnosis, Muth started to have difficulty breathing. Her mom called an ambulance.
A paramedic who arrived at the house told Rhonda labored breathing was a side effect of the flu. It wasn't cause for concern.
"He asked us you know, 'We can take her.' And, you know, they're the medical personnel," Rhonda told WTVD. "I trust what they know. And they said she was fine."
But she wasn't.
Hours later, Muth's breathing got worse.
"She was breathing a little bit heavier. And all of sudden she just raised up and went back down," Rhonda described. "I went, 'Emily, Emily.' And I noticed she wasn't breathing."
Again, Rhonda called 911. But it was too late.
By the time the ambulance reached WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, Muth was gone. The 6-year-old died on Jan. 19.
"This flu is no joke and didn't have to happen," Rhonda wrote on a GoFundMe page to raise money for her daughter's funeral. "Please, all of you who have children, please hold them tight and [at the] first sign of flu get them to the ER."
Nico Mallozzi, 10
Nico Mallozzi, 10, died on Sunday after suffering from flu complications, according to a medical examiner. (Kirsten Morin, courtesy of the Mallozzi family)
Nico Mallozzi started feeling sick before participating in The Cup North American Championship hockey tournament in Buffalo, New York.
The 10-year-old from New Canaan, Conn., reportedly left the tournament early, and was later rushed to a hospital, where he died on Jan. 13.
The fourth-grader's death was a result of “Flu type B that was complicated by pneumonia,” a medical examiner confirmed to Fox 61 two days after the boy's death.
Dr. Bryan Luizzi, superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools, sent a letter home to parents memorializing Mallozzi and urging students to get the flu vaccine recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
“Nico was a wonderful, enthusiastic, outgoing boy who was known school-wide for his high spirits, limitless energy and quick smile,” Luizzi wrote in the letter, which was posted on the school’s website Monday. “We will miss Nico terribly, and will always cherish our memories of him as a vibrant, fun-loving boy.”
Alyssa Alcaraz, 12
Alyssa Alcaraz, 12, Visalia, California, died from a strep blood infection on Dec. 17 -- just days after her parents say she was misdiagnosed with the flu. (Jeremy Alcaraz)
Four days before her death, Alyssa Alcaraz was diagnosed with the flu and sent home from a local urgent care with some nausea medicine and cough syrup.
But the 12-year-old girl's health continued to deteriorate over the next four days. She became lethargic and had trouble breathing.
Her mom, Keila Lino, took her back to urgent care, where she was told her oxygen levels were low and was transported to a nearby hospital.
Hours after arriving at the hospital, Alcaraz went into cardiac arrest and died on Dec. 17.
It wasn't until days later, that Lino learned her daughter's death was a result of septic shock from a strep infection in her blood – an infection she had no idea her daughter was suffering from.
“I know right now with the flu season clinics, hospitals, everyone is just busy and assuming that’s what everyone has,” Lino said. “But it’s more than that. In order for us to know, with simple blood work, it could have been caught. Something so simple.”
Alani Murrieta, 20
Alani Murrieta leaves behind two sons, ages 2 and 6 months. (Fox 10 Phoenix)
Alani Murrieta, a 20-year-old mother of two, died just one day after being diagnosed with the flu, family members told Fox 10.
The Arizona mom, who had a 2-year-old and 6-month-old, left work early after feeling sick.
“Monday she was still feeling sick, so her sister took her to urgent care, her and her kids,” Stephanie Gonzales, the woman’s aunt, told Fox 10. “They diagnosed them with the flu, sent her home with flu meds.”
The next day, Murietta took a turn for the worse. Her mom rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia, placed on a ventilator and pronounced dead within hours on Nov. 28.
“Never in a million years would we have thought we would have lost her that day like this,” Gonzales told the news outlet.
Kyler Baughman, 21
As an avid bodybuilder, a chiseled Kyler Baughman was the picture of health.
So, when the 21-year-old from Pittsburgh said he felt too sick to exercise, his family knew something was wrong.
Baughman came home early from work one night with a mild cough.
“He kinda just laid down and went about his day, and that was the day he was coughing and said his chest hurt,” his fiancée, Olivia Marcanio, told WPXI.
Nearly 48 hours later, Baughman was taken to the emergency room and airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he died of organ failure caused by septic shock from the flu, Baughman's family said.
Katharine Gallagher, 27
When Katharine Gallagher fell ill with the flu, she planned to just sleep it off.
But as time passed, the 27-year-old's symptoms only got worse.
So, she decided to go to urgent care, where she was given fluids and antibiotics. Two days later, on Dec. 5, she was dead.
"The next thing we know, we got a call from her boyfriend...saying that it was bad and the paramedics were there," Katharine's mom, Liz, told KTLA. "And so after about 10 minutes, he said to me, 'They’ve called it' — worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life."
Gallagher's sudden death was a result of severe acute bronchial pneumonia — a complication caused by the flu, her mom said.
Now Liz is warning others who catch the flu this season to seek treatment early.
"Young people just think they’re invincible, and most of them don’t want to pay what it costs now to go to doctors," she told KTLA. "Life is short...nobody ever thinks it will happen to them."
Katie Denise Oxley Thomas, 40
Katie Oxley, a 40-year-old mother from San Jose, died two days after catching the flu, according to reports. (Facebook/Katie Oxley)
With three kids, Katie Oxley Thomas was always running around. And on top of that, somehow the San Jose mother also squeezed in marathons and the occasional yoga session.
Her family never expected she would die from the flu.
"It was very shocking for us. We just thought she was going to leave the hospital in a couple of days and come home," Thomas' stepmother, Adrienne Oxley, told KTVU.
But on Jan. 4, just four days after she was diagnosed, Thomas died. Doctors said the flu lead to pneumonia, and Thomas' death was a result of septic shock.
"The one doctor said I've never seen anything progress like this. He said this is just incredible," Thomas' father, Walt, told the news station. "Most of us get the flu and recover from it and a handful of people every year don't. And you just don't think it's going to be your daughter. But you really want to take it serious."