Rare Flu Kills 6-Year-Old Girl; Should Parents Worry About Vaccination Complications? Doctor Set It Straight

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald February 12, 04:00 am
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Flu vaccines can prevent complications and it might be a matter of life and death in some rare cases.
(Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A rare form of flu has killed a 6-year-old girl from Rocky River in Ohio and her condition has caused concern for parents who thought it resulted from the flu vaccine. Doctors are setting the record straight to what really happened to Eva Marie Harris.

According to ABC 13 News Now, Harris succumbed due to acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a neurological condition triggered by flu complications. She was admitted to the hospital with a 105 degrees fever on Feb. 7 and underwent some tests.

Harris was initially believed to have contracted the influenza B virus. The tests revealed, however, the flu virus has attacked and damaged her brain in what doctors consider as a rare case. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, ADEM causes the swelling of the brain and spinal cord and mimics symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis.

People inflicted with ADEM might experience fever, seizures and a slight change in mental state. The virus develops within two to three weeks, at which point the patient might feel weak or have difficulty walking.

Neurologist Dr. Maz Wiznitzer of the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital assured the public that ADEM is not contagious. It's also not caused by the seasonal flu vaccine given to kids.

"The present vaccinations that we give do not have an association with ADEM," Dr. Wiznitzer said. "We know the diseases those vaccines protect you against, those are the ones that can cause this bad inflammation of the brain, swelling and inflammation of the brain."

Cleveland reports aside from Harris, two other rare flu cases in children have cropped up in Ohio this flu season. Each of these cases is isolated and was complicated by other factors.

Doctors attest that getting flu vaccinations is still the "safest and most effective way to prevent the flu." The flu vaccine is especially recommended for children under 2-years-old, adults over 65, people with low immune systems and pregnant women.

"These antiviral medications can reduce the severity of the flu and prevent serious flu complications," Ohio's Bureau of Infectious Diseases chief Dr. Sietske de Fijter said. "They work best when started within two days of getting sick."

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