Carly Christenson, 14, died of influenza despite receiving flu shot

Christensen (pictured) came down with a sore throat the week before Christmas. Yesterday, she died.
Christensen (pictured) came down with a sore throat the week before Christmas. Yesterday, she died.
Submitted image via KSTP and the Star Tribune

Getting a flu shot is no guarantee you won't get sick, perhaps even deathly so, from influenza.

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Just consider the tragic story of Carly Christenson, a 14-year-old 9th grader in St. Louis Park who yesterday became the second otherwise healthy teenager to die in the Twin Cities in the last two weeks from flu complications. Christenson received a flu shot in August, WCCO reports.

Overall, Christenson is the fifth person to die of the flu in the state this season.

The WCCO report tells the story of how Christenson's symptoms rapidly worsened:

Carly, who played basketball on the freshman sophomore team at St. Louis Park High School, returned home from practice Dec. 20, complaining of a bad sore throat. After a quick visit to urgent care, doctors believed it was just a mild infection.

They prescribed Prednisone and sent her home. After all, Carly had no obvious signs of influenza and she had been vaccinated in August, so her parents didn't give it second thought.

However the next day, that sore throat progressed to fever, shortness of breath and wheezing. Carly's lungs filled with fluid she was admitted to the hospital for treatment. Her clogged lungs were not providing enough oxygen to her body, so she was given a heart and lung bypass via what is called an ECMO machine.

The Star Tribune spoke with Kris Ehrenmann, head of the infectious diseases and vaccine program at the state Health Department. Despite Christenson's story, Ehrenmann urged people to get the flu vaccine:

Ehresmann stressed that the relatively rare deaths of people who were vaccinated should not lead to the conclusion that the shots are pointless. The vaccine is considered 60 percent effective against the flu in healthy adults, she said.

It "is not 100 percent effective, so, sadly, it is possible to have a situation in which someone vaccinated develops influenza," Ehresmann said. "We still are recommending vaccination" for everyone, especially vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions...

Even in otherwise healthy people, "what can happen is that influenza serves as a gateway for a secondary infection like pneumonia or staph, and the severity increases rapidly," Ehresmann said.

"Sadly, we do see some pediatric deaths from the flu and deaths in otherwise healthy young people every year," she said. "That in no way diminishes this child's tragic death, but it does happen. We continue to say -- get vaccinated."

Through December 29, 578 flu-related hospitalizations had been reported throughout the state this flu season.

"It certainly is a very vigorous influenza year," state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told MPR last week.

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