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When the Flu Turns Deadly

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Two children have died of the flu this week. How can we protect our kids?

Hunter Pope

Two kids this week, age 10 and 12, have died of the flu.

12-year-old Hunter Pope of Boston died over the weekend. Dr. Anita Barry, director of the infectious disease bureau for the Boston Health Commission, said Tuesday there's no indication that the boy had any underlying health problems.

The boy's mother, Tess Pope, tells the Boston Herald that he was not vaccinated because he lost his permission slip. "I didn't know until yesterday -- he lost the (permission) sheet," the heartbroken mom said.

While some parents distrust medicine, Pope said she embraced it and would have eagerly encouraged him to have had the school-sponsored flu shot, noting Hunter, his twin sister, Molly, and 15-year-old twin brothers, Connor and Ramsay, were all conceived through in vitro fertilization. "The fact that he lived at all is through medicine," said the distraught mother.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports four children nationwide have died from flu through Feb. 7.

As mothers, this completely freaks us out that our children could DIE from the flu.

But momlogic pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says this is an unfortunate reality.

"There are an estimated 36,000 flu deaths a year, and people of all ages are susceptible," she says. "It's a hideous thing to say that pediatric deaths from the flu are not surprising, but they are not. It happens every year. This is a disease that can kill you."

Dr. Cara says some children die of the actual flu virus, while others die from secondary bacterial infections like MRSA or pneumonia that they contract while having the flu, when their immune systems are down.

"The AAP recommends that all kids six months to 18 years are vaccinated for the flu annually," she says. "If you have a child who is less than six months old, it is recommended that parents, siblings, and others who live in the home get the flu shot. I vaccinate my own children and myself every year."

She says the myth that "you can get the flu from the flu shot" is bogus. "There is no live virus in the flu shot, so you cannot get the flu from it," she says. "The nasal vaccine ADD is an attenuated -- or weakened -- flu virus, so it can cause mild flu-like symptoms such as runny nose, but does not cause the actual flu."

Dr. Cara says it is not too late to get your kids vaccinated. "The flu season can last all the way into April, or even May, so there is still time to get the flu shot," she says.

According to Dr. Cara, the odds of a child dying of the flu are probably extremely remote ... but it does happen. "The flu shot can reduce that risk," she says. "The flu kills 30-150 children each year ... and that's 30-150 too many. Why take the chance?"

Did your kids get flu shots this year? If not, will you make the appointment now?


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23 comments so far | Post a comment now
Angel February 22, 2009, 2:14 PM

I can’t believe this site doesn’t have a “report as offensive” option next to comments here that are most definitely off topic and insensitive to the friends and family of Hunter.

Much love to Hunter’s family.

Justamom3 April 29, 2009, 7:06 PM

I agree with Chris. I think it was pretty clear.

Tess Pope September 23, 2009, 5:07 PM

I am that boys mother. And autopsy showed that he didn’t die of flu, although he tested positive for a strain of Influenza B (not included in the vaccine and usually very mild). He died of viral myocarditis. A virus had attacked his heart for about a month, considering the damage to it. The pathogist was amazed that Hunter had been active and running around the day before he died. Viral Myocarditis is often lethal in children (they are so healthy they have no symptoms). It is extremely rare. Most children with this die at home, no time even to go to the hospital.
It is so sad that so very many people are so eager to rush to judgment, even while they have so little information.
Hunter’s absence is unbearable.
Tess Pope


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