Monday 22 October 2018

Revealed: Healthy children among 50 to die from flu in five years

Stock Image: Getty Images
Stock Image: Getty Images
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Up to 50 children have died from flu in the last five years, including a minority of young victims who were healthy with no previous risk factors.

The HSE confirmed “less than 10” youngsters under 16 die annually from winter flu.

Various strains have caused the deaths of up to 50 children over the past five flu seasons, leaving parents searching for answers.

The highest risk of complications is to children who have pre-existing conditions that make them vulnerable, such as those with respiratory illnesses, including asthma and heart disease.

The year of the swine flu pandemic eight years ago took a particular toll and killed some youngsters who had no previous risk.

Trinity College immunologist Seamus Martin said: “We are not all built the same way.

“There is natural variation on our resistance. Certain flu strains may be able to breach the immune defences of otherwise healthy people.”

Prof Sam McConkey, a consultant in infectious diseases in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, said if a patient gets pneumonia on top of flu, it is a major worry.

“A patient can get the flu first and then bacterial double pneumonia. That can lead to failure of lungs and death.

“Sometimes they can go blue and fluid builds up in the lungs,” he said. “You need to be in hospital and intensive care at that stage.”

The impact on patients this winter is not as severe as during the pandemic of eight yeaHe said this year some of the sickest patients with flu can be low in oxygen in their blood. They are given anti-viral medication and after a day or two are well enough to go home from hospital.

rs ago. The flu illness this year so far appears “moderate to severe”.

Fewer patients with flu are needing to be put on a ventilator in intensive care.

During the flu pandemic year, nearly every ventilator in the hospital for a while was filled with patients with respiratory failure, he added.

So far this year hospitalisation rates have been highest among the over-65s and infants under a year old.

Premature babies can be at high risk of the flu.

Prof Joe Keane, a respiratory consultant in St James’s Hospital, said the flu causes a patient’s immune system to be suppressed. “It interferes with the person’s normal ability to fight bacteria,” he said.

“It suspends your immunity against bacteria. So an ordinary bacteria which you would normally deal with quite easily becomes a life-threatening infection.

“You start off with what appears to be a transient viral infection but what that does is that it destroys the lining of the lung which ordinarily prevents the bacteria from taking root in your lungs.

“The consequence of that is a person who is immuno-suppressed with bacterial pneumonia and that is a bad combination.”

He said dying from flu is a very rare event.

“That is why we are keen on vaccination,” he added.

Meanwhile, there was little respite for the country’s A&E departments on Monday as 506 patients waited on trolleys for a bed.

A lack of beds has forced 73 children to languish on trolleys in emergency departments in the last two weeks.

The young patients have endured hours in trolleys in the three children’s hospitals, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, National Children’s Hospital Tallaght, and Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.

The figures were released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which launched its new trolley watch for children’s hospitals.

If children are on trolleys in any of the regional hospitals, this will also be recorded in its daily tally.

INMO general secretary, Phil Ni Sheaghdha said: “The negative outcome for patients arising from long trolley waits is proven and accepted.

“Exposing children to extended periods in an emergency department can expose them to traumatic events. It is unacceptable,” she warned. They are in adult A&Es in other hospitals.

Irish Independent

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