How does the flu kill healthy people?

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7-Year-Old Dies One Day After Flu Diagnosis

How does the flu cause death? According to Scientific American, the way the flu kills its victims can be summed up simply: “The short and morbid answer is that in most cases the body kills itself by trying to heal itself.”

>> On MyAJC.com: Flu season to be worst in a decade: Death toll rises to 37 children

As the virus spreads in the lungs and respiratory system, the body unleashes a counterattack, in which T-cells destroy the tissues that harbor the invading virus.

“In most healthy adults this process works, and they recover within days or weeks,” the magazine reports. “But sometimes the immune system’s reaction is too strong, destroying so much tissue in the lungs that they can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the blood, resulting in hypoxia and death.”

>> On AJC.com: Do you have the flu? 17 things to know about flu symptoms, flu shot side effects and more

Sometimes the lungs, weakened by the flu, become prey to another infection, often streptococcus, and the body is felled by bacterial overload, as happened to a New Hampshire mother of four earlier this month.

Worldwide, the flu causes up to 640,000 deaths annually.

Doctors have long known that contracting influenza can be dangerous for the elderly, for infants and for those already in a weakened state. But flu can kill others as well, depending on the virulence of the particular strain that spreads during flu season.

>> Read more trending news 

This year’s strain is the most severe in a decade.

A chart from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta can help parents determine when to seek help.

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Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
ALLENTOWN, PA - JANUARY 11: A patient recieves a flu shot at a mobile tent set up to handle the recent influx of flu cases by the Lehigh Valley Health Network's main hospital campus January 11, 2013 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The health department has designated influenza as widespread throughout 41 states, with more than 11,000 laboratory-confirmed cases since flu season began in mid-December. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

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