While I do appreciate the need for media coverage of this years flu epidemic, I am a bit dismayed by the “scare tactic” information that is constantly leading the headlines, and in my opinion causing anxiety rather than educating and informing the public (of all ages).
I am continually reassuring parent after parent (and even grandparents) that although there are so many people who are getting the flu this year (big denominator), for the majority of people the flu is not a deadly disease. But, watching the news makes everyone feel as if they “might die within hours” if they do not seek “immediate medical care”. I have seen worried parents who are coming in within 2 -3 hours after their otherwise healthy child comes home from school with a fever. In many cases they have not even treated the fever. These are not infants under 6 months of age who are too young to immunize against the flu, but children of all ages from 1 - 21 years of age.
I have also conducted a biased, non scientific and not statistically significant study among the doctors I see while making hospital rounds, within other pediatric and emergency medicine groups or even socially. “We docs” in Dallas have been BLESSED that “we” feel as if the children are actually not as sick this year as in many previous years and that “we” have not had to hospitalize large numbers of patients due to secondary flu complications….yet. Continuing to pray that this continues. (My group has not put one child in the hospital with flu).
So….I went back to look at “real” data that is statistically significant and is available for anyone to see on the CDC website. Looking retrospectively at pediatric deaths due to influenza:
2014-2015: 148 deaths
2015-2016: 92 deaths
2016-2017: 110 deaths
2017-2018: 30 deaths to date (and we had an early start to this year’s flu season)
-In all of these years the male:female ratio was about 1:1
-In 50% (sometimes slightly more) of the deaths there was an underlying medical condition putting the child at greater risk. These included in descending order of prevalence: neurological disorders, pulmonary disease, and cardiac disease.
-In >60% of the deaths a child had been admitted to the hospital for days to weeks before dying and less than 20% occurred in the ER. ( It seems that media reports make parents feel as if children were all dying within hours of becoming ill). 10-20% of pediatric deaths did occur outside of the hospital but I did not see any data as to whether they had previously seen a doctor.
-45% of the deaths occurred due to a secondary bacterial infection
It is tragic that there will be deaths in “otherwise healthy children” due to influenza, but sadly this occurs every year. Even with the best care in the world, viruses do kill people. But, while we may be in a flu epidemic (which also occurs every year when enough flu tests are positive) we are NOT seeing alarming numbers of pediatric deaths which should cause parents to have sleepless nights and worry if their child gets a fever. You still have a much greater chance of your child dying in an accident.
The BEST prevention continues and will always be GET A FLU VACCINE!! Surprisingly, there are still patients who are coming in to be tested for the flu and don’t want to be vaccinated, despite data to show that immunized children have fewer complications, lower hospitalization rates and few deaths. I don’t understand?? Wouldn’t that knowledge alone help you feel a bit better about being exposed to flu everyday…no matter what you do. We also have at least 4-10 weeks of flu season left so you would still benefit from a vaccine, and fortunately there is NOT a vaccine shortage.
Lastly, if your child has ANY respiratory distress, prolonged fever over 72 hours, a fever late in their illness, issues with dehydration or seeming to get sicker, they NEED to be examined by their doctor or urgent care. This advice has also been the standard of care for all flu seasons, but really pertains to any illness.