This season's flu is claiming lives suddenly from people who appeared healthy only days before their deaths. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 13 children have died from the flu so far this season, which is shaping-up to be one of the worst.
18-month-old Nathaniel Lee Downey of Lucas County, Ohio, died Monday after becoming ill just three days earlier.
"He was being a normal kid an hour before," Paul Manning, a cousin of the toddler's mother, told The Blade "Next thing we know, he started coughing real bad."
Manning said the boy started turning blue and was taken by ambulance to Toledo's St. Vincent's hospital and placed on life support. but, "He never came back," Manning said. Health department spokesman Shannon Lands said the child tested positive for Influenza A.
Downey is the second Ohio child who has died from the flu. A 4-year-old boy from Montgomery County was the first pediatric flu death of the year, according to Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health. The child died at Dayton Children's Hospital on Saturday, January 6th.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Health Department reports one child died from the flu last week, but did not release any other information about the death.
Likewise, the New York Health Department reported a child death from the flu, but did not not disclose the child's age, identity or community to protect the family's privacy, except to say that the child lived "downstate."
Two children in Oregon reportedly died from the flu, according to a state health official who said one child was under the age of five, the other was under age ten.
The flu also took the life of a mother of two young sons, ages seven and nine. The Needham, Massachusetts woman, who was described by a co-worker as "happy and healthy," died suddenly from the flu. 51-year old Jenny Ching succumbed to complications from the flu just two days after being admitted to the hospital with what she thought was just a bad cold. It's a "very, very painful situation to witness," her husband Matt told WCVB, "This was truly the most hurtful thing I've ever seen."
The number of flu deaths in America varies between 12,000 and 56,000 people every year, depending largely upon the type of flu that circulates across the country. This season, the dominant strain is H3N2, nicknamed "the hospitalizer" because it is associated with high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, according to health experts.
H3N2, a form of influenza A. This strain is included in this year's flu vaccine, however, according to a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine said it was only 10 percent effective against H3N2 in Australia. Vaccine effectiveness typically ranges from 40 to 60 percent and cannot be determined until after the flu season is over.
Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News there is the possibility that the vaccine might work better in America than was reported in Australia.
The CDC says it's not too late to get a vaccine, although it can take up to two weeks to become fully effective. The health organization also recommends a number of additional ways to prevent getting the flu such as frequent hand washing and avoiding sick people, as the virus is highly contagious.