Children regularly come down with sniffles and other symptoms of colds or flu during the winter months, leading many parents to assume these illnesses will pass without any complications or long-lasting effects. Contrary to what many people think, however, flu is often deadly for children, and a particular strain that reached epidemic proportions in December 2014 has been said to be especially dangerous for children. An infectious disease physician with the Mayo Clinic is reported to have stated that the H3N2 virus affecting 90% of the flu-infected U.S. population right now is one of the virus subtypes that tend to cause the greatest number of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in children, the elderly, and others with weakened or compromised immune systems. According to reports, this type of virus can very quickly threaten children’s lives by entering the brain through the bloodstream, leading to serious respiratory symptoms, high fever, and an excess of white blood cells in the lungs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the flu had already reached epidemic proportions in the United States in December 2014. Though the flu generally reaches the epidemic threshold at some point every year, the current level of illness exceeds levels at this time in recent years. At least 15 children have already died from flu or influenza-like illnesses, including children in their teens (though children under the age of 4 were reported to account for the greatest number of hospitalizations). Outbreaks of the illness have occurred in every region of the country, and 22 states and Puerto Rico have reported a high amount of the flu, with 6 additional states reporting moderate activity. Tennessee, for example, has seen hundreds of children hospitalized for flu, and at least 6 Tennessee children have died. More than 100 patients were reported to have been hospitalized for flu in one week in Columbus, Ohio, with the total number of flu-related hospitalizations since August 25 (when hospitalizations for flu generally begin to be counted) numbering more than 5 times the number reported at the same time in 2013. Michigan had reported more than 300 flu-related hospitalizations and office visits as of December 31, 2014; nearly one-fourth of the students and more than a dozen teachers in a school near Chicago, Illinois, were reported to have been absent due to flu during December, causing officials to close the school for 2 days so that the property could be disinfected; and officials in North Carolina have reported the highest level of flu activity in more than 5 years.
Authorities have speculated that the ineffectiveness of this season’s flu vaccination and the low number of citizens receiving vaccinations (in part, because the vaccine’s ineffectiveness was reported before the flu became widespread) may have contributed to the problem we are currently facing. Flu vaccines are designed every year to protect against the flu strains predicted to be the most prevalent, but, sometimes, the predictions are inaccurate. Once the inaccuracy is discovered, however, it is generally too late to develop a new vaccine, as the process is reported to take approximately four months. According to the CDC, the flu vaccination available for the 2014-15 season failed to cover most of the strains tested, primarily because a mutation in the predominant flu strain (H3N2) hadn’t yet been identified as a common one when the vaccine was designed and because the highest numbers of hospitalizations and deaths occur in seasons, such as the current one, when H3 flu strains predominate.
Despite the relative ineffectiveness of the vaccine, citizens are being advised to obtain flu vaccinations now. Even though this season’s vaccination is not a perfect match for the most prevalent strain, the vaccine may still have a positive effect on the length and severity of patients’ illnesses. In addition, as other flu strains are also causing illness, the vaccine may prevent patients from contracting those strains.
The CDC is urging citizens to take this season’s flu epidemic very seriously. Parents and others can help prevent the spread of flu by frequently washing hands, sanitizing door knobs and other frequently touched objects and surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or the crooks of arms (rather than hands), and not touching eyes, noses, and mouths with bare hands. Though certain states have reported more illness than others, the flu can easily and quickly spread across the country. If signs of the illness appear in your child, seek immediate medical attention from competent and caring professionals. Pediatricians and other healthcare providers have a duty to meet the required standard of care in the diagnosis and treatment of your child and may be held responsible through legal action for injury or death caused by a failure to provide the requisite standard of care.
This Season’s Flu Epidemic is a Serious Concern for Our Nation’s Children
Today’s writer, Jeffrey Killino, is a respected child-injury attorney with extensive experience with child-injury cases, including those arising out of injuries or deaths caused by medical malpractice or negligence. Attorney Killino has received national recognition for his involvement in child-injury cases on major television networks such as CNN, ABC, FOX, and the Discovery Channel, including through coverage of a case that led to an order compelling Mattel, Inc., to provide free lead testing to children who may have been exposed to toys containing excessive levels of lead.
Photo credit: Marc via Flickr