Dr. Max Gomez Answers Your Flu Questions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A 10-year-old Connecticut boy and a 40-year-old mom from California are among the latest deaths in the ongoing flu outbreak.

Friends and family say Katie Oxley was the picture of health. She died after visiting the hospital twice in two days, diagnosed with the flu and sent home to rest.

Over the weekend, Nico Mallozzi was traveling with his hockey team with the flu. He died on the way home.

At least 22 children have been killed by the flu this season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says widespread flu activity is now reported in every state except Hawaii.

While the flu season is peaking, it will be weeks before it slows down.

Dr. Max Gomez has been answering questions sent in by viewers to the CBS New York Facebook and Twitter pages.

Question: How does the flu kill a healthy person?

Gomez: It’s actually the body’s response to the flu virus that’s deadly, not the virus itself. Your immune system sends battalions of white blood cells to fight the infection. Sometimes that immune response is too strong, destroying so much of the infected tissue in the lungs, that they can’t deliver oxygen to the blood. In other cases, the damaged lungs are vulnerable to bacteria, leading to bacterial pneumonia — which is potentially fatal. And that bacterial infection can also spread throughout the body, becoming sepsis and damaging multiple organs.

Question: People are often concerned the shot is not effective, so how do scientists decide what to put in the flu vaccine?

Gomez: It’s an educated guess. They determine which strains were circulating in the southern hemisphere, where the winter flu season is going on during our summer. They choose three or four of those strains for the next vaccine. Because it takes at least six months to manufacture millions of doses of vaccine, those choices will be made next month for the 2018-2019 flu season. The CDC says the overall vaccine effectiveness this year is about 40-percent.