A Killer Flu Has Schools Working to Protect Children

A five-year-old girl died of the flu last weekend, making her the fourth New York City child to succumb to the illness in the past two weeks, according to the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. The girl, Elisa Murray, was rushed to Brookdale Hospital after being found unresponsive in her Canarsie, Brooklyn home last Saturday. According to neighbors, the girl had trouble breathing the night before.

Earlier this month, eight-year-old Amely Baez was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where she died from the illness after being diagnosed with the flu one day earlier, the city health department confirmed.

In North Bergen, N.J., a six-year-old kindergartner, Neveah Hernandez, attended her class last Friday, displaying no apparent signs of the illness—but she died of the flu over the weekend, too. Her school, Lincoln Elementary, learned of her death on Monday.

With the flu-related deaths of  children continuing to climb, New York and New Jersey officials are urging parents to vaccinate their children. Meanwhile, parents and schools alike are trying to prevent their children and students from getting ill as well.

Gemma Fandialan, a mother whose daughter also attends the school in New Jersey, said she sent her daughter to school with a bottle of hand sanitizer after she heard about the flu-related death. “We know the flu this year has been very bad,” Fandialan said. “I just reminded my daughter last night, just make sure every time you touch something, doorknobs, anything, you know wash your hands, sanitize your hands.”

Shermain Jeremy, a mother of two from Freeport, N.Y., said she’s also taking precautions with her two children. “As soon as my children come home, we change their clothes and do baths and pajamas immediately, even before dinner,” Jeremy said. “The flu has changed our whole nighttime routine.”

With children among those most susceptible to the illness, along with pregnant women, schools in the New York and New Jersey area are increasing school sanitation, and urging parents to stay home with their children when they’re ill.

At The Barbara Esselborn School in Staten Island, the elementary school sent home a letter to parents discussing the severity of the flu. They also posted the notice about the influenza to their school website: “You should know that our school has, and will continue to, take the necessary steps to properly cleanse and disinfect all areas of our building,” the notice said, among other thigs.

Similarly, at the Verrazano School in Brooklyn, Parent Coordinator Margaret Lloyd also notified parents about the flu, and even sent home consent forms to parents, so students could receive free vaccinations at the school.

“I have arranged for local pharmacist, Mr. Georgiy Polyak, and Ms. Samina Newman, wellness ambassador, to come to PS 101 next week and provide flu shots to those who wish to have this protection,” Lloyd said in a letter to parents.

City officials are in agreement about the vaccine, not only urging parents to guard their children with the flu vaccine, but everyday New Yorkers as well.  “The influenza season is far from over, and it is not too late to get the flu shot. We urge parents to protect themselves and their families by getting this potentially life-saving vaccine today,” the Health Department said in a written statement.

Like many schools across the city, officials recommend that you stay home in the event of illness, to limit the spread of the influenza, per the CDC. But the best way to limit the spread of the illness: getting the flu shot.

Despite the push to get vaccinated, a Canadian study showed the flu vaccine was only 17 percent effective against H3N2, the most common strain of the flu this season, and the one providing far worse symptoms.  Still, “We always talk about flu vaccines being incredibly important,” Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens said, “The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it’s the only way to really reduce the severity of the illness.”

“For whatever it’s worth, I would urge people to get it. It’s far better than not having it,” she said.

According to Dr. Segal-Maurer, this season’s flu is so severe that the hospital has even increased their sanitation, providing all of their doctors with vaccines to prevent the spread of the flu as well, encouraging doctors to partake in alcohol and soap and water rubs whenever they can.

“Sanitation is in high priority at our hospital. We receive influenza vaccines, too, and that goes a very far way. If we get sick, how are we going to take care of patients?”

Despite the efforts to limit the spread of the illness, there have been 53 flu-related deaths among children nationwide, and around 4,000 overall flu-related deaths per week, Fortune Magazine estimates. Those numbers are expected to climb, the CDC reports, with two months left in this deadly season. This season’s severity is just as bad as the swine flu epidemic in 2009, officials say, with a recent report from the CDC showing that one out of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was associated with flu-related illnesses.