By Zack Yaksich
In February of 2003 my life was turned upside down when I lost my 5-year-old daughter, Alana, to a disease I thought I knew, but didn’t: influenza.
My family and I were spending a Saturday afternoon together watching movies while Alana recovered from a low-grade fever. Later that evening, Alana’s fever skyrocketed to 106 degrees, and we rushed her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with influenza and eventually suffered from a complication of influenza called encephalitis which is the swelling of the brain, which ultimately resulted in her death.
My wife and I had no idea that influenza could be so serious. Each year in the U.S., influenza and its related complications result in an estimated 226,000 hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. In fact, depending on virus severity during the influenza season, deaths can range from 3,000 to about 49,000 people.
We also did not know that children typically experience the highest rates of influenza infection each year. In the United States, more children die from the flu than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Alana had not been vaccinated against influenza the year she died, and if she had, I believe that she would be alive today.
There was a lot my family and I didn’t know about the flu – but there is one thing we now know for certain: Annual flu vaccinations are safe, effective and the best way to help prevent influenza and its related complications.
That is why my family and I have joined the American Lung Association’s Faces of Influenza campaign. This educational initiative aims to put a “face” on influenza and encourage annual immunization. Through my involvement in the campaign, as well as Alana’s Flu Foundation (founded in Alana’s memory) I have helped spread this important message throughout Detroit over the past several years as an effort to help prevent families from experiencing a tragedy.
This year, however, is different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the support of leading health experts, recently expanded its influenza vaccination recommendations to include everyone 6 months of age and older. That means we are now all “faces” of influenza, and should all get immunized every year.
With one simple flu shot, you can help protect yourself and those you love. Last year’s pandemic H1N1 virus brought national attention to influenza and served as a stark reminder of the importance of annual influenza vaccination. This year, the 2010-11 seasonal influenza vaccine includes the 2009 pandemic H1N1 strain, so only one vaccine is needed to help protect against H1N1 as well as the other prevalent strains of flu virus circulating this season.
My family and I have already gotten our flu shots this year; for those who haven’t, I urge you to act now to help protect yourselves and your loved ones against influenza.
By sharing my story, I hope to help other families recognize the seriousness of the flu and the importance of getting vaccinated, so that they never have to experience the heartbreak of losing a child to a vaccine-preventable disease.
So, if you think you know the flu, think again. It can be serious – even deadly – but it can be prevented.
For more information on the flu, immunization, the Faces of Influenza campaign or Alana’s Flu Foundation, go to www.facesofinfluenza.org or www.alanasflufoundation.org.
(National Influenza Vaccination Week is a national observance established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination, as well as fostering greater use of flu vaccine after the holiday season into January and beyond. The 2010-11 season’s NIVW is scheduled for Dec. 5 to 11. To find a flu clinic near you, go to www.lungusa.org/lung-disease/influenza/flu-vaccine-finder/.)