Protecting My Family From Flu
Nov 16, 2009
By Amy Pisani
This past Friday night my children were both finally vaccinated against H1N1 at a vaccination clinic at our town hall. It’s hard to express the relief I felt the moment they inhaled those precious (and hard to find) vaccines. While I recognize that the vaccine takes several days (and two doses) to offer protection, I still let my guard down a bit and gave the ole hand sanitizer a welcome respite over the weekend.
Some people might think that I’m a bit alarmist over the influenza virus, and I have to admit that they are absolutely correct. It is upsetting that children die every year from seasonal influenza when there is a safe and highly effective vaccine to prevent this disease. Even a single child is one too many to lose to a preventable disease. Each year, the CDC estimates that between 46 and 153 children die from seasonal influenza. Government health officials say H1N1 flu has sickened about 22 million Americans since April. Nearly 4,000 people have died, including 540 kids (1/3 whom had no underlying conditions). http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/estimates_2009_h1n1.htm
Until recently, we had no means of protecting ourselves and our loved ones against this virus aside from practicing the proper hand washing techniques and of course staying away from anyone who looked like they’d contracted the plague! Thankfully, shipments of the vaccine are increasing, and more of us can be protected each day. In fact, Google and the American Lung Association have joined forces on a newer version of a flu shot clinic locator that includes both seasonal and H1N1 vaccination sites. The site is easy to remember: www.google.com/flushot and I urge everyone not to give up on efforts to get vaccinated.
My family is one of the lucky ones. We have two healthy, happy boys. One of whom is a nine year old who loves baseball, ice hockey and skiing. However, each time I hear on the news that another child is suffering or has passed away, I remember the ordeal we endured when he was just past his first birthday. During that flu season, he was hospitalized for “complications related to influenza” and it was a horrible experience for our family. At the urging of Families Fighting Flu, I put our experiences on paper in the hopes that it would serve as a reminder of how dangerous the flu can be.
The first ten months of our son’s life progressed smoothly. He was a happy baby, always laughing. As fall arrived, he began catching numerous colds and did not seem to recover as quickly as other babies his age. Since he was not in daycare, his parents wondered why he contracted so many illnesses. His breathing would become labored and he would often vomit from the mucous build up in his nose and lungs.
Just prior to his first birthday, he became very ill – he was unable to be consoled, had a very high fever, and was listless and vomiting. We were visiting my husband’s parents at the time, so we called our pediatrician who recommended that we take him directly to the emergency room. As soon as we arrived, my son was rushed into a treatment room and placed on oxygen as they assessed his condition. His breathing was extremely labored and he was excessively dehydrated from the fever and vomiting. He was admitted to the hospital and placed in a large, industrial type crib with metal bars. His arm had to be tied down so that the intravenous fluids he was being given to combat the dehydration could be placed in his little arm. He was surrounded by an oxygen tent to aid with his breathing, which precluded me from being able to breastfeed him on schedule and otherwise soothe him by holding him. Seeing a small baby in this condition is enough to break anyone’s heart, but as his parents, it was heart-wrenching. Fortunately, he responded well to the treatments and was able to go home after several days for close follow-up with his pediatrician.
Our family enjoyed his first birthday celebration later in the month, thinking we were in the clear. However, several days later he became irritable once again and started having high fevers. Three days later, he was prescribed Albuterol to help with his breathing and the pediatrician kept a close watch on our son to ensure he did not develop pneumonia. In November, he was placed on allergy medicine because of the continued “phlegmy, harsh cough”. On November 17th, I became very concerned about his condition – throughout the day he continued to vomit and had a very high fever. As the night wore on, he seemed to become more listless, but as day broke, so did the fever. My husband was out of town so I called the pediatrician to say he felt cold and clammy, but still so very listless.
The pediatrician directed me to rush the baby to the hospital. Once in the emergency room, he was again given oxygen and intravenous fluids. While in the ER, I learned that being cold and clammy was not a sign the fever had broken, but a dangerous sign that his blood pressure was too low. My husband rushed home from his trip as our son was admitted to the hospital for treatment. Again he was placed in the crib with the oxygen tent and every hour, twenty four hours a day a technician would come in to provide the baby with breathing treatments. Often we would offer to give the treatments, just so we could feel useful during the interminable days and nights. Three days later he was discharged to a very nervous set of parents with instructions about how to assess his breathing function in the event that he became ill again. Fortunately, he made it through the rest of the flu season without any major illnesses.
Flash forward one year to the impeding influenza season. I placed a call to my pediatrician to inquire about his need for a flu shot. The staff person informed me there was a shortage and the vaccine was available only for high risk children. I mentioned that he was hospitalized twice last year and assumed he might be high risk. It wasn’t until this time that the staff informed me that, in fact he had been hospitalized due to complications from the flu and that since he also has asthma; he should receive the flu vaccine. This was the first time we learned that our son’s hospitalization was related to the flu. He’d only recently been diagnosed with asthma, which is a condition that is only diagnosed after a child exhibits ongoing symptoms. It is sometimes too late by the time you realize a child is high risk particularly since it may not be until the second year of life that asthma is even diagnosed; after several episodes. Fortunately, influenza vaccine is now recommended for all children beginning at six months of age.
Each year, 36,000 people die from complications related to influenza. After going through the experience of watching the heartbreak of our helpless infant suffer from these complications, we are now the first in line each year to seek vaccines for our entire family. We want to ensure that others avoid the ultimate devastation that approximately 150 families endure each year when their child dies from the flu. For more information about how some families have taken action since losing their children to the flu, please go to www.familiesfightingflu.org. To learn more about important vaccines for children please visit Every Child by Two at www.ecbt.org and www.vaccinateyourbaby.org
- ALL children beginning at 6 months of age and their family members or caregivers should be vaccinated against influenza each year.
- Ask your doctors, other health care providers and your child’s teachers if they have received their flu shot.
- Seek immediate medical attention if your child shows any of the following symptoms, as they may be a sign of complications from the flu:
- High and prolonged fever (102°F or above for more than 72 hours)
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Drop in body temperature (hypothermia)
- Difficulty with breathing
- Not able to take in usual amount of fluids
- Changes in mental condition, such as not waking up or not interacting; being so moody that the child does not want to be held; or seizures
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Worsening of underlying medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)
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