The flu has killed at least 30 children so far this year according to federal officials, and parents are understandably nervous about the virus.
Devastating stories of children dying from the flu keep popping up online. The most recent one involves Dylan Winnik, a 12-year-old from Florida who died from the flu on Tuesday, just two days after he developed cold-like symptoms, per WPTV.
Dylan’s stepfather, Mike Medwin, says that the child stayed home from school because he was tired and had a runny nose. His family found that he had a normal temperature on Tuesday, but he died hours later. “Don’t mess around with the flu,” Medwin said. “It’s not going to somebody else. It can happen right in your neighborhood. Right in your home. It happened to us. Lightning struck.” The family has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Dylan’s funeral and memorial.
This isn’t the only GoFundMe page created to help raise money after a child recently died of the flu. The family of Emily Grace Muth says on their page that the 6-year-old died on Jan. 19 from the virus. “She started to get symptoms on Tuesday..we took her to urgent care on Thursday the 18th and EMT saw her this morning and said she had flu and it will get even worse..just keep her hydrated and she will be okay in a week or so..and today she is gone,” the page says. “Our hearts are aching and feels like we lost a part of us.”
The Internet is filled with stories like this, and it’s terrifying for parents who want to do everything they can to protect their children.
The flu symptoms in children are pretty similar to those that adults experience, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Those typically include a fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (However, the CDC notes that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.) Children may also experience diarrhea and vomiting, Adalja says.
It seems confusing that Dylan Winnik’s fever was normal right before he died, but Adalja points out that fevers can go up and down when someone is sick. “One reading that is normal in the context of a severe illness doesn’t, in itself, mean the illness is stable or improving,” he says.
Symptoms are slightly different in babies, Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. They’ll typically have a fever, a cough, and a lot of mucus, and won’t eat well because they’re suffering from a sore throat, she says.
If your child develops symptoms of the flu, call his or her pediatrician. Your child’s doctor may prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that can help speed up the flu’s course and lower the risk that your child will develop serious complications as a result, if it’s taken early enough, Fisher says.
Some children develop the flu and get better with time and rest, but if your child has a fever that won’t go down despite using acetaminophen or ibuprofen, is fatigued and unable to do anything, and is having shortness of breath, you need to go the ER, Adalja says.
Of course, the best thing you can do to protect your child from the flu is to try to keep the child from contracting it in the first place. That’s why Fisher strongly recommends that all children with access to the flu vaccine be vaccinated. If your child hasn’t been vaccinated yet, there’s still time, Adalja says — and he recommends that the entire family get vaccinated for added protection. Even though the flu vaccine is estimated to be only 30 percent effective this year, it’s less likely that your child will develop serious complications like pneumonia or sepsis if he or she does contract the virus after being vaccinated, Adalja says.
While the vaccine is the best way of protecting your child, good hand hygiene is also important, Adalja says, especially after your family visits a high-traffic public area like a mall.
You shouldn’t panic about the flu, but it’s important to do what you can to protect your family. “We’re at the peak of the season — there are several weeks left of influenza,” Adalja says.
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