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Influenza: Unprotected Story

Flu Can Kill Healthy Children

True story

The flu made the unthinkable real in our family," says Joe. "And now we're committed to making sure that everyone knows one important truth: The flu can kill healthy children.

One Wednesday afternoon in late January 2004, 3½-year-old Emily Lastinger took an unusually long nap. Strep throat had been going around at her preschool, so Emily's parents, Joe and Jennifer, took her to the doctor the next day to make sure she was okay. A nurse did a nasal swab and discovered that Emily had influenza (the flu). Emily was given influenza antiviral drugs to treat her illness, and her parents were told to give her plenty of fluids to drink as well as a fever reducer.

By Saturday, Emily was sicker. Her fever rose to 103 degrees, and she began vomiting. "Even though Emily was obviously sick, she was well enough to be up with the family that weekend, watching TV and playing a bit,' recalls Jennifer. "But we were worried and called the doctor a couple of times to talk about her symptoms and ask if we should come in to have someone look at Emily."

The doctor reassured the Lastingers that Emily had typical flu symptoms and that they should keep trying to give her plenty to drink. Jennifer and Joe were told to bring Emily in on Monday if they were still concerned.

On Monday morning, Emily's parents made a doctor's appointment for that afternoon. "I gave Emily a bath and got her dressed," says Joe. Then, Emily lay down in her parents' room to rest. Fifteen minutes later, her mother found her lifeless on the bed.

Jennifer and Joe started CPR immediately. Soon paramedics arrived. Forty-five minutes later in the emergency room, doctors were able to start Emily's heart and quickly transferred her to a local children's trauma center. Doctors worked for 12 hours to keep her heart and lungs working, but Emily died that evening.

"A lot of thoughts go through your mind," says Joe. "You think, ‘Little girls don't suddenly collapse and die.’ You think, ‘Parents don't go into the hospital with their child, and then leave without her.’"

The autopsy revealed that because of the flu, Emily had pneumonia with a painful complication called an empyema (infection of the lungs). Emily had not been vaccinated against the flu.

"The flu made the unthinkable real in our family," says Joe. "And now we're committed to making sure that everyone knows one important truth: The flu can kill healthy children."

"I could have gotten Emily the flu vaccine," says Joe. "Whatever else you do, be sure to get your children the flu vaccine every year."

This story is one of many recounted in the fact sheets series, Diseases & the Vaccines that Prevent Them.

For other true stories, see Vaccines: Unprotected Stories.

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