The mysterious deaths of five children between the ages of two and seven within a week in Virginia have prompted an investigation by the Department of Health. Four of the cases are from the Tidewater area; one case is in Richmond. The cause of death for the children is unknown and no link has been determined in any of the cases.
“I understand that all parents will be concerned about their children,” said state Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube, M.D., M.P.H. “However, at this time of the year many children have upper respiratory infections and flu, and at this point I have no reason to believe children are at an increased risk of serious illness.”
The deaths were totally unexpected and investigators are interviewing the families and everyone who came in contact with the children. All five of the children had experienced upper respiratory symptoms; some were under the care of doctors; others were on antibiotics; none were hospitalized.
Doctors in Virginia received a letter Feb. 20 from district Health Dept. directors updating them on the recent deaths in Hampton Roads and Richmond. The letter provided guidelines for testing children for influenza and the criteria for notifying the local health department of previously healthy patients under the age of 21 who are reporting complications from the flu. Physicians were asked to remind patients of the importance of washing their hands thoroughly and often.
“These cases could represent a random, coincidental clustering in time and be due to unrelated causes,” said Assistant State Epidemiologist Suzanne Jenkins, V.M.D., M.P.H. “We advise parents to take the same precautions to protect their children that they would take to help prevent catching a cold, the flu, or any respiratory infection.”
But without any definitive answer to why the children died, the sudden deaths have prompted medical officials to notify the Centers for Disease Control for assistance.
The CDC is also investigating the sudden unexplained deaths of children in Michigan where influenza is the suspected culprit. Virginia health officials have also contacted Michigan.
The Virginia Department of Health recommends parents be mindful of frequent hand washing with soap and warm water to prevent disease, make sure their children wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when they cough. Children who are ill should stay home from school until they are feeling better.