Health coach and policy consultant for young women living with illness, Jessica, 29, Brisbane, was a victim of the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Living with cystic fibrosis, Jessica was at higher risk of serious complications from influenza than most.
In June 2009, while holidaying with her husband in Queensland, taking time-out to consider health-related lifestyle changes, Jessica contracted the flu.
Rushed to hospital experiencing congested lungs and difficulty breathing, Jessica was placed on non-invasive ventilation, received intravenous antibiotics and endured a month-long hospitalisation.
She is now a stronger than ever advocate for protecting against influenza, and plans to visit her community pharmacy for an annual flu shot henceforth.
This is Jessica’s story.
Given Jessica is living with cystic fibrosis, she is at heightened risk of complications from influenza.
When she was holidaying with her husband in 2009 she caught swine flu from a shopping centre.
“At that stage in my life, I had been instructed to make some big decisions about my health. Unfortunately, I ended up catching swine flu. I’d had the flu before, but it was nothing like the 2009 pandemic.
“The flu began with high fever, aches, pains and sweating, but soon developed into something more drastic,” Jessica said.
“I experienced difficulty breathing and was rushed to hospital after developing a chest infection as a complication.”
Jessica was admitted to The Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, at the peak of the swine flu epidemic. The Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was inundated with other swine flu patients at the time, and despite the severity of her symptoms, there was no room for Jessica in the ICU.
Barely able to comprehend her surroundings, Jessica’s admission was a complete blur. She was placed on non-invasive ventilation to assist with her breathing and required intravenous (IV) antibiotics to combat the resulting chest infection and subsequent respiratory distress.
“I was so unwell – I was completely out of it. I received non-invasive ventilation to help me breathe. This was the first time in my life that I needed breathing assistance, and it was scary.
“I was placed on intravenous therapy. A line was inserted into my arm and down to my heart, to deliver potent IV antibiotics, as the main risk for me was complication from the infection,” said Jessica.
Jessica also received antiviral medication to combat the virus directly. Knowing the virus was potentially life-threatening, her Tasmanian-based family were placed on stand-by in the case that her condition deteriorated.
At the time, Jessica was in Queensland digesting the news that she would probably require a lung transplant in the foreseeable future due to her cystic fibrosis.
“My lung function was the lowest it had ever been at the time, which meant I had little reserve or strength to cope with the swine flu.
“My doctors therefore had a serious conversation with my family in Tasmania, advising them to make a fast dash to Queensland should things get worse,” Jessica said.
“Up until then, I had diligently protected myself against contracting the flu. I had received an annual flu shot from adolescence, practiced good hand hygiene and avoided people if they were unwell. But unfortunately the flu vaccine available at the time did not afford protection against the 2009 swine flu.
“To this day, my doctors, who are highly experienced in this area, remind me how lucky I was to survive swine flu,” said Jessica.
Jessica stresses the need for the broader community to consider the wellbeing of others if out in public while unwell.
“Each flu season, friends and members of the cystic fibrosis community spend months in hospital, and pass away from the flu – a tragedy that occurs in part due to other people’s decisions to not stay at home when unwell.
“It’s a really hard reality to face, and I live with the niggling thought of whether I will be next, because it can only take one interaction with someone who has contracted the flu. Although dramatic, it’s a reality,” Jessica said.
“I’m therefore hesitant to go out in public during winter due to my condition.
“I feel so fortunate to have survived the complications of flu. I remain frustrated however, by those who are either unaware of, or choose to head out and about while infectious, which places everyone, particularly the more vulnerable members of our community, at heightened risk of flu,” said Jessica.
Although now physically well, Jessica remains cautious during flu season, and hopes the availability of the flu vaccine in pharmacy nation-wide will encourage people to protect themselves and the broader community.
“I ensure I have the flu shot each year. Being able to have the flu shot in pharmacy makes a big difference to me.
“I’m quickly in and out of a pharmacy setting. There’s no wait, it’s affordable, and helps to protect myself and the community against infection,” said Jessica.