It's only October, but already 86 American children have died from the swine flu. That's a startling number, considering in a normal year, 45 children die from the seasonal flu.
Forty-five in an entire year versus 86 just so far from the swine flu -- it's no wonder young people are the target of efforts to control the spread of the virus.
Kayla Hand, 10, has the swine flu. She told her pediatrician, "My eyes, anytime I closed them, tears would come out, and I had a headache and a stomach ache and my throat hurt."
Her doctor is ordering her to rest, drink liquids, and take a non-aspirin fever reducer.
All is Swine Flu?
Ninety-nine percent of all cases of the flu right now are the swine flu. It's virtually the only flu strain circulating the country. Doctors expect the regular flu to hit this winter and the swine flu to come back again next spring.
Pediatricians are seeing lots of swine flu cases every day. But most kids who have the virus don't need to see the doctor. Their symptoms are mild and they'll get better on their own. There are some cases, however, that require immediate medical attention.
Like if a child:
- has difficulty breathing
- is unable to drink enough because of vomiting or diarrhea
- has difficulty waking up
- has a high fever that doesn't respond to treatment
- has asthma
- has heart disease
- has cystic fibrosis
- has sickle cell disease
Dr. Robert Fink, a Virginia pediatrician, says the percentage of complications from the swine flu is no higher than from the regular flu, but says they are occuring more than the regular flu because the swine flu is very widespread.
"There will be many more people infected with swine flu," he said, "because a lot of people have been immunized against regular flu, have had influenza in the past and have some immunity to it."
"But no one is immune or most people are not immune to swine flu," he added. "So the virtual numbers of the people infected are going to be larger than regular flu and there will be more people dying, not because it's a more lethal virus, but because of the virtual number of people getting infected."
That why doctors recommend children getting the swine flu vaccine, either the nasal spray or the injection, which are arriving at schools nationwide. Doctors say it's as safe as the regular flu vaccine because it's manufactured the same way.
"There are always some complications with any of the vaccines we use," Fink said. "There is no evidence that this vaccine has any higher side effect profile than the other flu vaccines that we have used in the past."
Now, parents are faced with having to decide whether to allow their children to be vaccinated at school.
"My son has asthma so I want to make sure he is protected because I know he's in a high risk group," Dawn Goeb said. She said she will sign the permission slip allowing her son to get the vaccine.
No Minor Visitors
Because the swine flu is more prevalent in children, many hospitals are banning visitors under the age of 18.
Kristin Hunziker, the mother of two young boys was turned away when she arrived at the hospital. "We're actually here to visit my grandma, great-grandma for these two little guys, so it's disappointing, but I totally understand that it's definitely in the best interest of keeping everybody safe."
Even children who look and feel fine are being turned away, because when people get the swine flu, they often don't have symptoms for the first 24 hours, but they're still very contagious.
"If you're a mom about to have a baby you probably would like to bring your other children in to meet their new brother or sister very early on," Dr. Gene Burke, executive vice-president of clinical effectiveness at Sentara Medical System, said. "There's a value to that, but right now we believe the risk to the other patients in the building, of a child coming in, exceeds the value of that connectivity."
The ban on underage visitors will likely last until summer.
*Originally published October 21, 2009