As sure as water is wet, the Earth is round and the sun burns, we all know that getting a flu vaccine is our best defense against acquiring influenza during the cold and flu season.
But during this devastating start to the 2019-20 flu season, too many Iowa parents and families are learning the hardest way possible of the essential important of getting young children vaccinated.
Four-year-old Jade DeLucia of Iowa, who did not receive a flu shot this season, has been left blind after nearly dying from the flu. Jade caught the flu a few days before Christmas and spent nearly two weeks in the intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
“If I can stop one child from getting sick, that’s what I want to do,” Amanda Phillips, Jade’s mother, told CNN. “It’s terrible to see your child suffer like this.”
The flu’s annual toll on children is heart-wrenching. Influenza claims the lives of dozens of children each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like Jade, most children who become seriously ill or die from the flu were perfectly healthy before they acquired the virus.
From December 19-23, Jade quickly went from her usually bubbly self to running a low-grade fever to lying unconscious in her bed, unresponsive and her body burning hot in a matter of days. On Christmas Day, doctors told Jade’s parents the flu had affected her brain. A complication of the flu called encephalopathy. Jade remained unresponsive the next few days at the hospital while Dr. Theresa Czech, a pediatric neurologist called in to consult on Jade’s case, studied her condition. On New Year’s Eve, Czech gave Jade’s parents her specific diagnosis: acute necrotizing encephalopathy (ANE), a type of encephalopathy often caused by a viral infection.
On New Year’s Day came a miracle. Jade awoke from her coma. She went home on January 9.
Jade has lost her sight, but not her spirit (doctors remain uncertain if her vision will eventually return).
“My brave girl, who cannot see, but is loved by so many,” Phillips wrote about her daughter’s condition on Facebook.
But doctors warn other at-risk, unvaccinated children this year may not be as lucky. Influenza B, which is ravaging Iowa as this season’s predominant strain, has already killed scores of children during the early weeks of the season. Influenza B – which is from the Victoria lineage – has not been the predominant flu virus in the U.S. since the 1992-93 flu season, according to the CDC.
The CDC reports the flu’s seasonal presence in Iowa as widespread. Nationwide, the CDC reports pediatric flu deaths have double from this time in the season last year.
Because of influenza B’s rarity in Iowa, people in their 20s and younger may not have been exposed to this strain of the virus before and “might not have the immune response to fight this,” Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa’s state medical director and epidemiologist with the Iowa Department of Public Health, told The Cedar Rapids Gazette.
A 2017 CDC study showed the vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying and CDC statistics show that receiving the flu vaccine reduces a child’s risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit by 74 percent.
“We want parents to know (children) should get a flu shot every season,” Phillips said.
Because influenza’s sickly grip on the nation shows no sign of letting up soon. Through January 20, the CDC had tallied 9.7 million cases of the flu, 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 flu-related deaths.
“Influenza activity is expected to continue for many weeks in the United States,” the CDC said. “Additional hospitalizations and deaths, including among children, are expected to occur.”