In the Trenches with Influenza A

Yesterday I saw a child I have known since before she was born and her mom confessed she was newly pregnant! She is a few months older than my oldest son. She is a charming, beautiful, and lovable child who always brings me joy, even when she is not feeling her best.

Her smile lights up my soul, but her tears and suffering break my heart. Her parents and I have shared some intense experiences in the examination room over the years. Needless to say, we are bonded. I completely broke down sobbing when I gave their son his 5 year shots a mere 10 days after my brother died unexpectedly. They simply cried with me and hugged me with a compassion most physicians can only dream about experiencing from their own patients. I am lucky to have this family as a part of my practice.

Her mom sent a message to me yesterday morning that she was diagnosed with the flu and thought her daughter might have influenza. My heart sank. I asked her to come in to the clinic when we opened in the morning. This little girl represents the true face of pediatric healthcare on the front lines today. She is completely healthy and thriving, yet has contracted the influenza A virus, which is a serious threat to her well-being. Her mom, who also has influenza, said “I have never been more sick in my entire life.” That pretty much sums up the entire Influenza A experience.

This season, Influenza A is presenting the worst clinical signs and symptoms I have ever seen in 15 years of practice. Completely healthy children are being rendered unable to function and appear terrifyingly ill. Fevers of 104-105 are routine in my clinic daily, accompanied by red eyes, cough, body aches, and a miserable look in their eyes.

Bring your children in, please. This is when they need to be evaluated. After spending the last month doing more nasal swab testing for influenza than I have done in the last decade, I can look at my patients and tell if they have influenza A or B. Those with A are severely ill appearing and those with B are miserable, but safe.

To be honest with you, as your pediatrician, I am scared out of my mind I am going to lose another one of your children before this season is over. I hope I am hiding my distress from parents when you see me in my office. Please know I am trying to conceal my feelings. I do not want to alarm you because you need to focus and stay strong for your child.

I am giving you my best advice by recommending lots of clear liquids, managing fever and pain, resting, and watching for symptoms to worsen before they get better. It feels a little like practicing medicine on the western frontier in 1880.

Children are at their absolute sickest this winter; this devastating disease is like some kind of natural disaster with no end. I may be immunized against the influenza virus, but it has me utterly terrified as I helplessly stand by watching children become so dreadfully ill. The loss of one child this season has left me feeling raw from grief and traumatized at the same time. Please bear with me as I continue to sort through my unease while caring for your children and aiding their recovery from the clutches of Influenza A, a disease I now hate.

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