Dr. Jill Roberts examines fatal case of influenza and Staphylococcus co-infection [VIDEO]

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National Influenza Vaccination Week is Dec. 6-12

Getting vaccinated against the flu saves lives, according to USF College of Public Health researcher Dr. Jill Roberts, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health.

Roberts examined the fatal case of a healthy 30-year-old woman who died of a co-infection of influenza and MSSA, also known as methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus—a bacterium found on the skin.

According to Roberts, had the individual been vaccinated, her life could have potentially been spared.

Jill Roberts, PhD

Jill Roberts, PhD

“When you have a combination of Staphylococcus and influenza, it can be deadly, regardless of your health status,” she said.

The study, “Fatal necrotizing pneumonia due to a Panton-Valentine leucocidin positive community-associated methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus and Influenza co-infection: a case report,” is published in the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials.

Unlike MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MSSA responds more easily to treatment, according to Roberts.

One in three people carry Staphylococcus bacteria in their nose and usually do not show any signs of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, it can cause skin infections and health issues if it gets into the bloodstream through an open wound or cut.

Roberts, an alumna of the COPH’s doctoral program in global communicable diseases, said this particular Staphylococcus-related death was different because it may have been prevented with a flu shot.

“She just had a run-of-the-mill Staphylococcus that most people don’t pay attention to,” Roberts said. “But, when you add in the influenza, suddenly you have a death in a healthy individual. That’s what makes the case really unique.”

The woman under study had not received the flu shot and developed a severe case of pneumonia, a complication of being co-infected with the flu and MSSA.

Disease Progress Analysis

Disease progress analysis suggested the patient died of co-infection with MSSA and influenza. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Roberts)

“The reason this case just sticks with me so much is that it was preventable,” Roberts said. “It was absolutely preventable if she had gotten the flu shot. If she had been vaccinated, she would have been alive today more than likely.”

Influenza, a highly contagious respiratory illness, causes about 35,000 deaths each year, according to Roberts.

While the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with certain medical conditions, such as asthma or HIV, are highly susceptible to the flu, Dr. Roberts urges that everyone should get vaccinated against it.

The COPH hosts an annual flu shot drive each year and provides free flu shots to the community. This year’s event provided 861 vaccinations.

“I’m a really huge advocate of the influenza vaccination. It can prevent deaths in every age range, it’s not just grandma and little babies, it’s the middle range too that could die,” Roberts said. “Influenza vaccines are important for everyone. As public health practitioners it’s our goal to protect the public, we can do it personally by the easiest thing, get your flu shot.”


Roberts, J.C., Gulino, S.P., Peak, K.K., Luna, V.A., Sanderson, R. (2008). Fatal necrotizing pneumonia due to Panton-Valentine leukocidin positive community-associated methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus and Influenza co-infection: a case report. Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials, 7, 5; pages 1-4.


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health. Video by Sandra Roa, USF Health Communications.