An unexpected upturn in the number of Iowa children dying this winter from the flu and other respiratory illnesses is prompting state — and federal — health officials to investigate any possible links. Dr. Patty Quinlisk, Iowa’s chief epidemiologist, says about 20 children have died this season, all under the age of four.
"We are a little bit concerned. We are having more deaths in young children than we would expect. It may not be that the deaths are related to each other but when things like this happen, we like to investigate to make sure there that isn’t something going on that we can intervene on or educate on to lower the risk of more children dying," Quinlisk says. While it’s been a particularly nasty and prolonged flu season, Quinlisk says by no means were all of the deaths due to the flu, but several were, and that’s why they’re investigating any possible connections between the multiple child fatalities.
Quinlisk says: "We know that they had laboratory tests around the time of death that were positive for two of the different flu viruses, one an A and a B," in addition to a respiratory virus known as R-S-V which is not that uncommon in children, and adenoviruses, which causes things like more serious colds.
Quinlisk says the figure of 20 deaths may go higher, as state health officials are asking physicians across Iowa to be sure to report any deaths involving child patients. She says it’s difficult to pinpoint how many such child deaths would be typical during an Iowa winter. She says it’s hard to come up with an absolute number, but perhaps ten children would die statewide in a more typical winter from the flu, the R-S-V and other viruses combined.
Twenty deaths is reaching out of the norm and she adds, "This many deaths would not be expected…so having this many is of concern and we want to investigate it." Quinlisk urges Iowa parents to use common sense in helping to keep their kids healthy — including keeping them away from sick people, getting them vaccinated for the flu, keeping them home from school if they’re sick and following strict hygiene procedures, including frequent hand-washing.