‘Get the shot,’ urges widower whose wife died days after contracting the flu

TORONTO — Less than two weeks after his young wife died abruptly from complications of the flu, Dustin Ens is sharing her story in the hopes it will prevent another tragedy.

“I decided on Tuesday morning that if Joanne’s story could bring one person hope or help one person decide to get the flu shot, it would be worth it,” he said.

On Jan. 6, Joanne Ens died after she contracted an infection while she was battling the flu. She was only 24.

“She had lots of love,” Dustin Ens told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “Joanne loved love. She loved the idea of it and young people, in particular, and she loved with her whole heart.”

Dustin Ens said his wife didn’t have any other known health conditions when she fell ill with the flu on New Year’s Day. Two days later, her symptoms worsened and they visited a walk-in clinic near their home in Mordon, Man.

A couple of days after that, Dustin Ens took his wife to the hospital because she had a high fever and she was having difficulty breathing. She was immediately admitted to the trauma department where staff intubated and sedated her so she could breathe.

Shortly after, Dustin Ens said his wife was transferred in a STARS air ambulance to St. Boniface Hospital. Doctors there were unable to treat her because she had gone into septic shock.

She died later that morning, only five days after she had come down with flu.

Dustin Ens told CTV News Winnipeg that doctors said her illness began with influenza B, then she contracted a secondary bacterial infection.

This year’s flu season

While Joanne Ens’ case is rare, it can happen, according to Dr. Isaac Bogoch.

The infection diseases specialist at the University Health Network stressed that influenza can be serious, and “can affect anybody.”

“We know that the elderly, the very young, and people with other medical conditions might be at risk of having more severe illness, but it’s certainly not unheard of for young, otherwise healthy people to get a very serious infection.”

The young woman’s death occurred just a week before a Grade 12 student in Winnipeg died of reported complications from the flu.

Despite the headline-grabbing deaths, Bogoch said he’s not concerned there will be more flu-related deaths this year than in years past.

However, there has been a significant increase in influenza outbreaks across the country in recent weeks, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

On Tuesday, the agency said there were 162 lab-confirmed influenza outbreaks between Dec. 15 and Jan. 4. They also found that cases of influenza B were circulating at higher levels than usual and earlier in the year.

With the flu season in full swing, Bogoch urged people to pay attention to their symptoms.

“If people are sick enough where they’re just not able to take in enough fluids and they’re not able to maintain their hydration and electrolytes, it’s time to go seek help,” he said. “And the other key point is if people are having any difficulty breathing, it’s also time to go seek help.”

And while the flu season technically began in September, Bogoch said it’s not too late to get the flu shot in January.

“The flu shot protects against four different types of flu that are circulating throughout the country and we’re still in the midst of influenza season,” he said. “Every Canadian should go out and get the flu shot.”

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