Four-Year-Old's Flu Death Raises Importance of Flu Vaccine

Amanda Kanowitz was a bubbly, blue-eyed 4-year-old when she developed a cough and mild fever. The flu “bug” was going around, according to her physician, and keeping her hydrated was recommended for her recovery.

The next day, Amanda began vomiting but was still drinking water. That same evening, on March 1, 2004, her parents found her dead in her bed.

Amanda’s mother, Alissa Kanowitz said that she never thought influenza would kill her little girl, because it just seemed like a regular “bug” or cold that goes around.

Amanda's tragic death stresses the need to have children vaccinated against the flu virus.

Click here to watch a video interview with Alissa Kanowitz

“Never in a million years had I thought of influenza as something bad,” said Kanowitz, of Manhattan. “It was just common, whether it was a cold or a bug. I didn’t really know how dangerous it could be. It’s a very serious disease that can kill children—kill anyone. It kills 36,000 people a year.”

Dehydration and high fever are two warning signs that influenza may be more severe in a child, said Kanowitz. Skin discoloration is another sign. On the second day, Amanda had a grayish complexion.

“Trust your instincts,” she said. “If you feel your child is not doing good, don’t think twice. Go to the emergency room.”

Kanowitz has started a foundation in Amanda's name to warn other parents of the risks. Click here to visit the Web site

Felicia Olt, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Services of America, stressed the importance of getting children vaccinated. She also mentioned the following as some preventative measures to protect children against acquiring the flu:

— Keep children hydrated

— Stress hand washing

— Clean and disinfect toys

She added that most people don’t get the vaccine, because they are put off by the potential side effects of illness or soreness, a concern that may be 10-fold with parents of smaller children.

“It is important to get the vaccine to keep children healthy,” said Olt. “The side effects from the vaccine are just swelling and soreness in the area. It takes two weeks to take affect, and there are three different viruses that compose the flu virus this year. No one is protected against everything, but hopefully, it protects against these strains.”

Needle-Free Vaccine

For children, the FluMist vaccine, developed by MedImmune, is a needle-free vaccine to help prevent children from acquiring the flu. The nasal spray was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children as young as 2 and up. Traditional shots are also available for children 5 and older.

A government program, which extends the FluMist coverage to younger demographic, will hopefully allow more children to be eligible for the vaccine. – according to who?

Dr. Frank Malinoski, senior vice president of medical and science affiars for MedImmune, said influenza is a very serious disease that is often overlooked as a common bug that will go away.

Although the new nasal treatment is safe for children who are healthy, more tests need to be done to examine its safety for children with other medical illnesses, including asthma and diabetes, he said.

“The safety profile was established in over 30,000 children in clinical trials,” said Malinoski. “It focused on children who are generally healthy. The last study included children with a variety of illnesses. Traditionally, there is a high risk population for children with influenza, who have active asthma, diabetes.”

Malinoski also recommended hand-washing to help prevent flu contraction in children as well as the following:

— Avoiding crowds for the prevention of the spread of germs.

— It’s going to come and spread, and the best thing is to get vaccinated.

“The No. 1 thing people should do is get their children vaccinated,” said Kanowitz. “We send our kids out to ride a bike with a helmet, so we can’t send child out without vaccination when we know that influenza is out there.”