Why the number of child deaths from flu is up so much this year

Author: David Morgan / CBS This Morning
Sick boy laying in bed as his mother takes his temperature. (Credit: CBS News)
Sick boy laying in bed as his mother takes his temperature. (Credit: CBS News)

This current flu season is on track to be one of the worst in recent history, in terms of the number of people inflicted. Flu is now widespread in almost every single state, and nearly 10 million people have become ill so far; 4,800 people have died, while pediatric deaths are double what they were at this time last year, with 32 reported fatalities so far.

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, Dr. Tara Narula explained why the numbers of child deaths from flu is up so much this year.

“The word we use about the flu is unpredictable, and it’s been unpredictable,” Dr. Narula said. “Because we’ve seen a shift in the predominant strain which is usually influenza A. This year it’s influenza B. That hasn’t happened since the 1992-1993 flu season. And we know that influenza B tends to affect children more. They tend to have more severe reaction to influenza B.”

What are the more serious complications for children?

“Certainly, pneumonia is one of the most serious and most frequent complications. They can also get encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. They can also get sinusitis and ear infections. They can also get seizures, or myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle.”

Dr. Narula said, “My daughter had the flu shot with me; she is 7. She got the flu over Christmas break, and now she was recovering. We go, ‘Oh, she’s getting better.’ She came into my room at night and said, ‘I can’t walk. My legs hurt me.’ She was crawling to the bathroom. At which point we discovered that in fact viral myositis, or inflammation of the muscles of the legs, can happen in children.

“It was so scary. That’s why it’s so important to remind parents that this just doesn’t have to be a fever and some respiratory symptoms. This can progress; this can be deadly.”

“What should parents being looking for?” asked co-host Anthony Mason.

“Certainly you want to look for signs of fever, abrupt onset, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, muscle aches. But also in children, they could have things like stomach pains or nausea and vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal symptoms.

“And then you want to recognize when things might be getting worse. So, if the kid complains of muscle aches or pains, if they look like their lips or skin are turning blue, they’re having respiratory difficulties, their fever is very high, or their mental state or alertness really changes, you need to seek care and call your doctor.”

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