Illustration for article titled A 4-Year-Old Girls Sudden Blindness Is a Tragic Reminder of Why Everyone Should Get the Flu Shot
Photo: AP

A 4-year-old Iowa girl’s tragic bout with the flu should remind everyone why getting vaccinated is so important. Her family says that the unvaccinated girl’s infection led to serious neurological complications that have left her blind, perhaps permanently.

According to CNN, Jade DeLucia became sick with the flu right before Christmas. Though DeLucia appeared to have little more than a mild fever at first, her parents found her unresponsive one morning, prompting a trip to a local hospital.

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Once there, she experienced a seizure, which necessitated an emergency airlift to another hospital 80 miles away in Iowa City. Doctors there eventually confirmed that the flu had made its way to the girl’s brain, causing a rare but well-known complication of flu called encephalopathy. DeLucia would spend over a week in the intensive care unit, fully in a coma.

Thankfully, during the first week of January, DeLucia woke up and steadily regained her ability to eat and talk. But her vision didn’t return, despite her eyes being perfectly fine. The infection had damaged the areas of her brain that helped her see, and it’s unclear whether she ever will see again. She may also develop other lingering problems, such as learning or cognitive difficulties, her neurologist told CNN.

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“It affected the part of her brain that perceives sight, and we don’t know if she’s going to get her vision back,” Theresa Czech, a neurologist who treated DeLucia at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, told CNN. “In about three to six months from now we’ll know. Whatever recovery she has at six months, that’s likely all she’s going to get.”

According to DeLucia’s family, she had gotten vaccinated for the flu last March. But they mistakenly believed that the vaccine would protect her for an entire year. In reality, an annual flu shot only provides some protection against the strains of flu encountered during the upcoming, current, or most recent winter season.

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The vaccine doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of contracting the flu—on average, it’s about 40 to 60 percent effective at preventing the flu, largely depending on whether scientists have done a good job at predicting the strains in circulation that season. But even when it doesn’t fully work, it still greatly reduces the odds of someone developing the sort of serious, life-threatening complications that DeLucia encountered.

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The family hopes that their story can encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“If I can stop one child from getting sick, that’s what I want to do,” Amanda Phillips, Jade DeLucia’s mother, told CNN. “It’s terrible to see your child suffer like this.”

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While this current U.S. flu season is thought to be a relatively mild one, it still may be responsible for up to 12,000 deaths, 150,000 hospitalizations, and over 6 million doctors’ visits, as of the first week of January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s still not too late to get your flu shot or spray.

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere

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