Friday, December 12, 2003

Flu-stricken children keep doctors hopping

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] "I don't feel good," is how Treana Walker, 5, describes her flu symptoms. She and her mother, Yolanda Walker, went to the emergency room at Children's Hospital Medical Center on Thursday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
AVONDALE - Five-year-old Treana Walker clung to her mother, Yolanda, in a tiny room at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center at the noon hour Thursday. She rubbed her tired eyes and hacked out raspy coughs that shook her tiny body.

"I don't feel good," Treana said, clutching a roll of fruit candy, the only food, her mother said, that seemed to taste good to the child.

Treana has the flu virus that has raced through the Cincinnati area over the past week, crowding doctor's offices and emergency rooms, emptying workplaces and shutting schools.

At Children's Hospital, emergency room doctors and nurses have been working around the clock to keep up with the ever-increasing number of parents bringing in children who have shown the unmistakable signs of influenza - fever, chills, body aches, dry cough and sore throat.

The emergency room at Children's, which normally sees about 225 children a day for various illnesses and injuries, has been packed some days this week - with a peak of 375 children treated Wednesday.

"It's been pretty crazy around here," said Dr. Scott Reeves, the emergency room doctor who treated Treana. "We always expect a rush of flu cases in January or February; that's usually the peak time.

"Having it happen this early makes you wonder what it will be like then."

The flu is still not considered widespread in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

However, the death of a 14-month-old girl last week is the first confirmed flu-related death in the state, the health department confirmed Thursday. Ohio typically has 3,000 flu- and pneumonia-related deaths each year, officials said.

Since Nov. 10, Ohio health officials have received 1,038 reports of influenza and upper-respiratory illnesses from the state's network of 88 "sentinel" physicians - up from 826 cases reported in the same period last year.

So far, samples tested at state labs have been the A/Panama strain covered by this year's vaccine. None of the A/Fujian strain that has caused deaths in Western states has been found here.

In Kentucky, 31 flu cases have been confirmed by the state public health lab in Frankfort, and 18 more are to be tested, Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health Services said Thursday.

In Indiana, the state Health Department, which does not keep precise figures, has said that doctors have reported an increase, mostly among children.

Treana, a preschooler from Colerain Township, is typical of the flu cases that have come through Children's emergency room doors.

Her mother said the symptoms started up two days before - chills, achy muscles, and a hacking cough. She thinks Treana was exposed at preschool, or from one of her playmates.

"I knew right away what it was," said Yolanda Walker. "I wanted to get her in here before it turned into something worse."

Sometimes, when untreated, flu can cause other infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

Walker said her biggest fear now is that Treana's 9-year-old brother will come down with it.

"This is the second time Treana's had it in the last two months," Walker said. "I don't know how long the rest of us can hold out."

Treana was treated with ibuprofen to try to knock down her fever - which got as high as 106 degrees - and sent home to ride out the virus.

The little girl didn't need an antigen test to determine if her body was reacting to a flu virus; Reeves could see that just by taking her temperature and observing her symptoms.

Emergency room doctors make sure there are no bacterial infections, see that the child is well-hydrated and generally send them home with instructions for bed rest and over-the-counter medications.

"We don't test everybody, but it is pretty apparent when somebody has the flu virus," Reeves said. "And it really doesn't change what we do."

What the emergency room doctors do, Reeves said, is "mainly reassure the parents that the kids are going to be OK. Every influenza case is going to make a person feel horrible, but they are only going to feel horrible for a few days."

Reporter William A. Weathers contributed to this report. E-mail

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