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Amanda Kanowitz, an otherwise healthy child, died at age 4 after getting the flu.

In developed countries, flu kills more people than any other vaccine preventable disease, according to pediatrician Jon Abramson of Wake Forest Univ. School of Medicine. (Szabo, 10-18-2011) Some of those killed are children. Though it’s not especially common, even otherwise healthy kids can die from influenza, and it happens every year.

“The flu can kill healthy children,” says Richard Kanowitz, founder of Families Fighting Flu. “The only way to prevent it is to get vaccinated.” (USA Today, 10-18-2011) In the 2010 flu season, 114 children died from influenza. “Half of those were healthy kids” with no pre-existing conditions that would put them at risk, according to Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (Weise, 9-22-2011)

Three-and-a-half-year-old Emily Lastinger was picked up from preschool one day. She wasn’t feeling well. She took a nap when they got home, which her parents say was unusual for her. It turned out she was suffering from the flu. Four days later, on Feb. 2, 2004, her parents left her alone in their bed for a few minutes. Emily’s mother returned to find her daughter strangely still, and rushed her to the hospital. The hospital record reads: “At 22:45, examination revealed cardiac standstill. She died in the arms of her father. Cause of death, influenza A.” (Sternberg, 2008)

As tragic as such deaths are, equally tragic is that in Emily’s case, the flu shot could have saved her life. “At the time, they didn’t recommend a flu shot for healthy kids like Emily,” says her father, Joe. (ibid) Now that they do, many parents choose to skip it…a choice that seems utterly incomprehensible to families like the Lastingers.

Most children who get the flu will recover without incident. Yet some get sick and never recover. It’s likely that healthy kids who die from the flu have some genetic susceptibility to a particular strain that makes them vulnerable. With the flu mutating every year and a large population of genetically diverse children, some kids may simply be dealt an unlucky hand. A child’s age and environmental factors can also come together to influence how sick they get.

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