Posts Tagged ‘families fighting flu’

101 Empty Chairs

June 23, 2017 1 comment

By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the 2016/2017 flu season has now claimed the lives of more than 100 children. 101 to be exact.  This statistic is hauntingly familiar – three of the past five flu seasons also claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

101 Pediatric Flu Deaths

Sometimes we forget what these numbers really mean.

It means that 101 families had to bury their beloved children; 101 families have to listen to the deafening sound of silence left by their lost loved ones; and 101 families now have empty chairs at their dinner tables every night.

I paint this picture because I know how these families feel. They’re probably thinking the same thing I did after my son died from the flu – how did this happen and what could I have done to prevent it? 

Unfortunately, unless flu has personally touched your family like it has mine, chances are you’re not all that worried about flu.  You may even think it’s just a bad cold. Well, as the mother of a child who lost her five-year old son to flu, I’m here to tell you, “Not so“.

According to the CDC, flu kills more Americans every year – up to 56,000 people – than any other vaccine-preventable disease.  Since 2004, when the CDC started reporting pediatric flu deaths, 1,466 children – many of whom were otherwise healthy – have lost their lives to flu.

Flu is that infectious disease that seems to fly under the radar. While everyone is focused on the latest outbreak of measles, mumps, pertussis or meningitis, flu is that one disease that we know we will have an outbreak of each and every year.  As prevalent as flu is, it still manages to creep up like a quiet thief in the night, stealing our loved ones right out from under our noses.  And yet when it does, we wonder why we never saw it coming.  Flu has killed millions of people worldwide – and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from influenza each year?  Annual vaccination.

Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce the likelihood of death and hospitalization from flu in people of all ages.  Yet, less than half of Americans get their annual flu vaccine.   Read more…

Did the Flu Take Down the Packers & the Steelers in the NFL Playoffs?

January 23, 2017 1 comment

In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.  

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-34-51-pmSome sources say the players had fallen ill with a flu-like bug, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean.  It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.

Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-41-49-pmis more common in children than adults.  It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.

Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler.  The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”.  To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal.  Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.

In an interview on, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,

“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill.  They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good.  It could be good for those players.  A lot of them play well.”

I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu.  He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.

This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.

The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year.  Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.

Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children.  Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine.  She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week.  As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.Read more…

A Mother’s Plea: Don’t Let Flu Steal Your Healthy Child

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment

CDC Flu Blog-A-Thon
This guest post by Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu, is part of the CDC Flu Blog-A-Thon held in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week.

As parents, we do everything we can to protect our children. We buckle them into their car seats, make them wear their bike helmets, hold their hand while crossing the street, and even get them their recommended childhood vaccinations. But what about getting our kids the flu vaccine?

Sadly, only about 42% of adults and 60% of children received their annual flu vaccine last season.  

jojo-and-sunflowers-croppedThese statistics may not mean much to you, unless you or a loved one have had a personal experience with the flu.  But they haunt me every day.  As a mother who lost her healthy, five-year-old son, Joseph, during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, I want to do everything I can to ensure no other child dies from flu.

Despite what many people may believe, influenza is not like the common cold.  Influenza is a very serious and highly contagious disease that tends to develop quickly, especially in children.  Influenza can also lead to hospitalization or death, even in otherwise healthy individuals. Every year in the U.S., approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized, and on average, 100 children die each year from flu infection and its complications. According to the CDC, 80 to 90 percent of pediatric flu deaths over the past few years have been in unvaccinated children, many of whom were otherwise healthy.

This is why I am writing this article and telling Joseph’s story again, in hopes that it will save someone else from losing a loved one to flu.

As a mother, I have always tried my best to protect my kids, including getting them vaccinated against the flu every year.  When my son Joseph was in kindergarten, he received his annual flu vaccine on September 26, 2009.  Unfortunately, the H1N1 flu strain was just developing, and it was not included in the seasonal vaccine that year. On October 9th he threw up a few times and became increasingly lethargic. Our pediatrician suggested we take him to the local urgent care and upon arrival, they found his blood oxygen level to be very low. They immediately transported him to the local children’s hospital where a rapid flu test came back negative and he was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia.

Several days into his hospital stay, the doctors informed us that Joseph’s culture was growing influenza, which was likely H1N1, but not to worry—it was “just the flu”.

Read more…

Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret

December 12, 2014 166 comments

By Joe Lastinger, Board Member, Families Fighting Flu

1525360_10151953693783780_1550060010_nMy daughter, Emily, should have started high school this year full of excitement and potential. Her teachers would ask her, “Are you Chris’s little sister?” or “Are you Andrew’s little sister?” In my head I imagine her earning high marks in advanced classes, joining student council, playing volleyball and basketball and having a great group of close friends. Now I realize that it might not have turned out that way. It’s quite possible that Emily would have entered high school at the peak of her teenage rebellion and might not even be on speaking terms with her mom and me. We will never know, because she died suddenly and tragically from influenza when she was only 3½-years-old.

Emily died from influenza in 2004. She died in our bed, in her pajamas, watching cartoons – just hours before we were scheduled to take her back to her pediatrician to have her looked at again.   Doctors have terms to describe how children like Emily can be so sick and not necessarily appear so…it’s called “compensation”. Children, we learned, can sometimes compensate for illness…until they can’t anymore.

If I had to describe how my wife and I thought about influenza – “the flu” – before Emily died from it, I would compare it to lice. I know that seems like a silly comparison, but chances are most parents at one time or another have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with lice. It’s a nuisance, cleaning hair, searching for nits, laundering, etc. You hope that the rest of the family doesn’t get it. You are kind of mad that it happened at all. It messes up your family’s busy schedule. You worry that other parents aren’t being diligent and will end up re-infecting your kids (well, at least we did). Maybe you wonder who started this whole mess to begin with.

But, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. You don’t have to be old, sick or immune compromised. Influenza kills healthy adults and children (like Emily) every year. We’ve spent the last decade working to reduce the number of kids that die every year from the flu. Much of this work has been through Families Fighting Flu, a non-profit advocacy organization we played a small role in getting started, and some of it has been on our own through state and regional efforts in Texas.

The year 2015 will mark a decade that my wife and I have been working to reduce (eliminate, really) the number of childhood deaths attributed to influenza. Ten years without Emily in our lives. Ten years working to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to other parents.  There have been successes (universal vaccine recommendations) and failures along the way (people still aren’t taking advantage of vaccinations that are widely available). Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned over that time and thought I would share a few insights. Read more…

Timely Flu News and Updates on Pediatric Deaths

February 7, 2014 1 comment

Over the last two decades, Every Child By Two has worked with partners at the grassroots and national levels to develop initiatives that help educate the public, healthcare workers and lawmakers about the importance and safety of immunizations.  As part of this mission, they continue their efforts to inform the public about the universal recommendations for influenza vaccination and the details of the current influenza season.

In a critical update from the CDC this week, Every Child By Two discovered that there have been 9 new pediatric deaths from influenza in the week ending in January 25th.

With a total of 37 pediatric deaths so far for the 2013-2014 flu season, the biggest tragedy is that 23 of the 37 children who died had a known vaccination status and they were eligible for vaccination; however, only 2 of the 23 children were fully vaccinated.

Furthermore, 6 of children who died were in the 0-5 month age group and ineligible for vaccination based on their age.  Ten of the children were between 6 and 23 months; five children were between 2 and 4 years old; ten children were between 5 and 11 years old; and six children were between 12 and 17 years old.

But no matter what the age or vaccination status, a pediatric flu death is a tragedy, especially if it could have been prevented with a simple vaccination.  

Read more…

Fighting the Flu Year Round

You would think that by this time of year the influenza season in the United States would be far from over.  Sadly, last week’s flu activity proves otherwise.

Although the amount of flu in the U.S. has been decreasing, there was still an additional pediatric death reported last week, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths from influenza this season up to 139.  Out of the 2,416 specimens that were tested and reported just last week, 124 (5.1%) were positive for influenza.  In reviewing the cumulative data from this current season, it’s also noted that the rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations this season has occurred among 44 per 100,000 people.

When you factor in the likelihood of additional unconfirmed cases, you can see that – despite what many people may thinkthe flu can be dangerous.  And the dangers don’t just lie with those who have underlying medical conditions.  This year, 46% of the children hospitalized with the flu had no identified underlying medical conditions.

Can you imagine how devastating it must be for families to lose their perfectly healthy children to influenza? 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne family, whose lives where forever changed when they lost their four-year old daughter Amanda, is currently spearheading a Challenge Campaign to help provide funds to Families Fighting Flu and create a new public awareness campaign called Stay in the Game.  This campaign is an ambitious effort to educate others by means of print, broadcast and social media which will focus on the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual vaccination, particularly among pregnant women, new moms, families, educators and health care providers.

In order to fulfill the expectations for this campaign, they must secure an additional $30,000 in funds by July 1st.  So, for every donation made to Families Fighting Flu between now and July 1st, Amanda’s parents Alissa and Richard Kanowitz, have generously offered to match funds, dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000 in order to secure the $30,000 they need.  If you would like to contribute a tax-deductible donation for their Stay in the Game campaign, as I have done, simply visit their website here.

Unfortunately, while the Kanowitz family and many other Families Fighting Flu members continue their monumental efforts to increase influenza vaccinations, states like Wisconsin are trying to make it easier for healthcare workers to forego flu vaccines.  Despite the research that suggests influenza vaccination among health care workers is a critical way to reduce the transmission of the flu, as well as flu related illness and death, Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Wisconsin is currently sponsoring a bill that would restrict employers from requiring workers to get flu shots. Read more…

Getting Kids Their Flu Vaccine Just May Save Their Life

December 4, 2012 109 comments

Each year, about this time, I think about a friend who died from influenza.  It couldn’t have been more of a shock.  He was completely fit.  Healthy.  A relatively young man in his early thirties.  Yet, despite all that, influenza took hold and within a matter of days his heart failed, he fell into a coma and eventually he died leaving his beautiful wife and infant daughter behind.

Even as we mourned him, I still didn’t consider the flu to be a significant risk to myself or my children.  I guess it’s just human nature.  We tend to want to think these “fluke” things are just that – strange, unexplained rarities that will never repeat themselves.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fortunately, in the 11 years since we said goodbye to our friend, doctors, scientists and public health administrators have made great strides in their effort to protect people from the serious consequences of influenza.  The most important development has probably been the introduction of the universal flu vaccine recommendations.  This broad-based recommendation was preceded by a steady expansion of pediatric influenza immunization recommendations that were intended to reduce the disease burden that was being observed among children.

Luke Duvall was a high school football player when the flu landed him in the hospital where he spent several weeks battling for his life.

Luke Duvall was a high school football player when the flu landed him in the hospital where he spent several weeks battling for his life.

There is nothing worse that seeing our own children suffer.  Except, of course, witnessing their loss of life.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that each year 20,000 children are hospitalized and roughly 100 die as a result of influenza in the United States alone.  If you think childhood influenza is only dangerous to children who have other underlying health conditions, you may be surprised to learn that between 2004 and 2012, 829 U.S. children under the age of 18 died from flu–related causes and 40% of those deaths occurred in children with no known medical conditions.  However, the current recommendations – that every person over the age of six months get a flu vaccine each and every year – are intended to eventually reduce these numbers.

What motivates a parent to get their child vaccinated?

According to a five-year progress report from the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition, there are several major motivators that influence parents to get a flu vaccine for their child.   Read more…