What can be more heartbreaking? An 11-year-old Hamburg boy died on Saturday from complications of the flu.
It was, by all accounts, a tragic fluke of nature. Luca Calanni had had a flu shot. He was cared for at Oishei Children’s Hospital. Before his death, this season’s flu virus had claimed only one other child in New York.
It’s a rare occurrence, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. People usually recover without any adverse effects, she said. But not always.
“When it gets into your system, sometimes for some people, it can be overwhelming and really stifle a person’s immune response so they’re not able to fight off other infections.” In Luca’s case, his mother told WKBW-TV, the virus attacked his heart.
Risks this year may be greater simply by virtue of the virus’ prevalence.“We are seeing much more flu this season compared to other years,” Burstein said.
As of Jan. 4, 32 children around the country have died this year from flu or related conditions, she said, citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The risk is that with Luca’s death, some people will conclude that there is no point in getting a flu shot. Burstein disagrees.
While each year’s vaccine is based on the prevalent strains reported in the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season, the virus may mutate by the time it reaches here. But even if that happens, she said, the shot can nevertheless temper the severity of the illness.
The CDC also suggests the following strategies:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing.
• Clean your hands.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Other strategies: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids, eat nutritious food.
As Western New Yorkers have once again learned, tragedy can strike anyway. Nothing is foolproof; nothing is guaranteed. A child – a fifth grader – can be taken by a microscopic virus.
So, what can be more heartbreaking? Maybe if it happens again because someone learns the wrong lesson and decides the flu shot is not worth having.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. It’s not hard to get, it doesn’t hurt and there is still time for it to be useful. If you haven’t done it yet for yourself or your children, please do. You can protect your own health and that of others who come near.