A North Bergen student passed away Monday, Feb. 12 from “flu-like” symptoms, according to a statement from Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter.
A press release from the NJ Department of Health (DOH), which is investigating the death, said the student was a 6-year-old girl. She was the second pediatric flu death reported to the DOH this influenza season.
“Today is a sad day in the North Bergen School District as we have lost one of our own,” Solter said in his statement. “I would like to express on behalf of the entire North Bergen School District our deepest sympathies for the family of our student. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with you during this difficult time.”
He added, “We are also urging parents to not send their kids in to school if they are suffering from flu-like symptoms and to get them medical assistance if they are. Additionally, the district has partnered up with the North Bergen Health Department and is offering free flu vaccines to students, with parental consent.” Call the department at 201-392-2084 for more information.
The district has been working to sanitize its schools for the flu season, which will continue at least through the season’s end, Solter said.
Multiple media outlets have identified the student as Nevaeh Hernandez, enrolled at Lincoln Elementary School. Solter later confirmed the girl attended the school’s Lincoln Annex Kindergarten campus.
Was she sent home with fever?
Hernandez’s family held a press conference Feb. 15 to warn others of the dangers of the flu.
Their attorney, Louis Zayas, told the press last week that her mother brought her to Hoboken University Medical Center on Feb. 9 with a 104 fever, and that she waited more than three hours to see a doctor. News reports said the hospital said she did not test positive for the flu or strep throat, and sent her home.
The next day, her fever rose again, and her mother, a medical technician, took her to Hackensack University Medical Center. Zayas claimed in the press conference that Hackensack diagnosed Hernandez with the flu shortly after arrival.
She later had four seizures, slipped into a coma, and died there, according to NJ.com.
A statement from CarePoint Health, which owns Hoboken University Medical Center, said, “We join the entire Hudson County community in mourning the tragic death of Nevaeh Hernandez. While privacy laws strictly prohibit our commenting on individual patient conditions, testing, or treatments, Hoboken University Medical Center meticulously follows all CDC guidelines and protocol related to the flu or possible flu cases.” The hospital said it will be working with the DOH in their review of all hospital records, charts, and lab testing in cases of pediatric flu deaths.
When asked by another publication if the family is considering litigation against CarePoint, the attorney said Hernandez’s family has not yet decided.
A GoFundMe was set up for Hernandez’s medical, funeral, and memorial costs on Feb. 12. It reached $24,240 of its original $15,000 goal by Feb. 14.
“Nevaeh was a beautiful 6-year-old full of life who brought happiness to all who surrounded her,” the page’s creator, Union City resident Gina Ojeda, wrote.
A commenter on the page wrote, “From one parent to another parent … Rest In Paradise To Your Beautiful Angel. Extending my deepest and heartfelt condolences.”
Does shot help?
At Lincoln School on Feb. 14, one parent dropping off his kids in the morning was surprised the school didn’t close after the death, as a precaution for other students.
“I thought the school would close,” said the parent. “They should’ve closed for at least a couple of days, then let them back in.”
He wasn’t worried about his two sons getting sick, though. “My sons have the flu shot,” he said.
Jesus Alfonso, a North Bergen internist affiliated with Palisades Medical Center on River Road, said the shot may not help everyone.
He said this latest outbreak, known as the H3N2 influenza A virus, is particularly strong.
“We thought it was peaking a few weeks ago, but apparently it’s still, quote unquote, ‘on the loose,’ ” Alfonso said. “It seems to be attacking mostly those who have not had the flu vaccine.”
But he said he’s had several patients who had the shot and still got infected.
“Apparently, it’s only about 20 to 30 percent effective for H3N2, and they’re getting symptoms,” he said. “Not as severe as the ones who’ve not had vaccinations. I’ve already had several cases come in where I’ve had either to give Tamiflu or even put them in the hospital.”
“I would like to express on behalf of the entire North Bergen School District our deepest sympathies for the family of our student.” – George Solter
The death comes as the nation deals with one of the worst flu outbreaks in years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu-related viruses this flu season caused 1 in 10 deaths nationwide so far this month.
In New Jersey so far, from the beginning of flu season to Feb. 10, the DOH noted 14,065 influenza cases in the state. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), around 63 children have died nationwide from the flu this season. It’s not yet clear, however, how many adults have died this season, as states do not have to report individual seasonal flu cases of people 18 and over to the CDC.
This flu season, many state nursing homes have been administering anti-viral flu medicine Tamiflu to residents, even those without this year’s influenza A signs, Alfonso said.
Influenza A strains come around once every five to 10 years, he said.
“These variants will escape the previous year’s vaccinations, because it has what we call ‘genetic drift.’” he said. That means that whenever the strains travel among different populations worldwide in a year, and come around stateside, they are different than before.
The Centers for Disease Control makes vaccines for flu strains across the world.
Because of infected people recovering from this strain and gaining immunity, along vaccinated people, next year’s flu season should be mild, Alfonso said.
He also dismissed flu vaccine naysayers, asking them to read about the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide. Today, far less people die from influenza due to vaccines, he said.
As with flu vaccines, Tamiflu has proven somewhat controversial in recent years. Recently, a Texas mother claimed the drug made her son go into a rage after receiving it. A family in Indiana even blamed Tamiflu for their teenage son’s suicide last month.
The drug’s prescription label does warn about side effects and conflicts with other medication. However, “they appear to be uncommon based on Tamiflu usage data,” the label reads. It also notes that influenza itself can bring about such behavioral changes.
Tamiflu is not a cure for the flu, but some doctors say it lessens symptoms if taken early enough. Since the flu is a virus and not a bacterial infection, doctors often will not prescribe an antibiotic. However, those who have the flu can become weak enough to be more susceptible to an infection or pneumonia.
Dept of Health safety recommendations
The DOH recommends that people take precautions to prevent flu this season, such as frequently washing or disinfecting hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and getting a flu shot.
Those with symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.
“While effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, in most people it still provides protection against the flu or severe symptoms if you do get the flu. Flu season can last until May,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal in the DOH press release.
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