Flu can be deadly for children

37 kids in Pa. have died this season

Author: , Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published: Jan 28 2013 07:01:58 AM EST

We are still in the midst of an influenza epidemic. Across the state more than 23,000 people are sick with the flu, and nationwide there's been 37 flu-related deaths among children.

"While we know all children are at risk, we know certain children are at higher risk," explained Dr. Jennifer Janco with St. Luke's University Hospital. "That would include children with underlying medical conditions, asthma is one of them, neurological conditions is another."

Health experts say these underlying conditions are aggravated by the flu, and can become a serious illness.

"They can develop severe respiratory problems, respiratory failure requiring a breathing machine to help them breathe, it can attack their muscles to the point that they're having trouble walking, it can attack their heart where their heart isn't pumping properly," said Janco. "So really this is a virus that can really fully attack their body."

That's what happened to 15-year-old Martin McGowan of Nazareth. The illness hit the ninth grader hard. It attacked his muscles and his heart.

"He threw up at 2:30 in the morning and by 6 o'clock that night he had actually passed away from influenza," shared his mother Diane McGowan.

It was shocking because Martin was completely healthy. Between 2004 and 2012, 829 children under 18 died from the flu. Most were kids with neurological disorders, asthma, lung disease and genetic disorders, but 40% were healthy children. This February will mark eight years since the illness took Martin's life.

"Martin didn't even know he had the flu, that's the worst thing," said Diane. "He was 15-years-old, I had turned over to him the right to understand his body and as a mom that's what tears apart my heart, I didn't take the precautions that I should have with my children's health and gotten them vaccinated."

At the time it wasn't recommended children Martin's age get the flu vaccine, something Diane worked to change. She lobbied to increase flu immunization requirements for children and teens.

"It was just heart wrenching to hear that from a simple shot he could have still been here today."

It's now recommended anyone six months and older get a yearly flu shot.