When five-year-old Scarlett Anne Taylor was sent home from school with the flu in December 2014, her mother Rebecca thought it was to be expected.
All children get sick, not least in a classroom during winter when bugs are rife.
But this case was different.
Two days later, struggling to breathe, Scarlett was rushed to the emergency room at their local hospital in Tacoma, Washington.
Doctors grappled to stabilize her, but her condition continued to deteriorate.
Within four hours, Scarlett had died of flu-related complications.
‘I could believe it. I didn’t think it was really happening,’ her mother Rebecca Hendricks told Daily Mail Online.
‘Before, I thought everyone got over the flu.
‘It didn’t seem real.
‘That morning, she’d got up, eaten all her Captain Crunch cereal, and drank all her milk. The day before we’d been shopping together, she had a dentist appointment, and made a drawing for her brother… She was full of life.’
Like the majority of children, Scarlett had not been vaccinated.
It is something that plagues Rebecca to this day, as she candidly admits that she had no idea how important it was.
‘I’d never heard of anyone dying from the flu. You hear your doctor say “get your flu shot” and the CDC put out all these things saying to get it. But you become deaf to it because you don’t think of it as important.
‘I carry a lot of guilt. I just went with the majority because Scarlett was always healthy, always energetic, so full of life. I thought she would just a cold she would get over.
‘Looking back, it’s difficult for me to come to terms with knowing that I just went with the majority and didn’t look into the facts.’
Scarlett was one of 147 children who died of flu in 2014 – most of them from a particular strain, H3N2.
Although H3N2 is not as virulent as some other strains of flu, it mutates very easily, making it stronger against the body’s immune system.
By the end of the year, the CDC declared an epidemic, with more than 20 deaths in just a few weeks before Christmas that year.
As health officials rushed to contain the outbreak, CDC officials admitted that the 2014 flu vaccine did not protect well against H3N2 – it had just 7 percent chance of protection.
But Rebecca says that doesn’t make a difference.
‘I would take 7 percent over 0 percent any day. Wouldn’t everyone? Wouldn’t you take that 7 percent if you child was lying on their death bed? Of course you would. I didn’t do that.’
Now Rebecca is urging other families to get vaccinated.
She has founded the Fight The Flu Foundation to raise awareness about the dangers, and this week shared her story in a blog post for the CDC.
‘I chose not to vaccinate my family simply because I didn’t know the facts,’ she said.
‘Our family now gets vaccinated against flu every year.
‘We are educated about what flu is, what the symptoms are, and how each one of us plays an important role in our community in stopping the spread of flu.’
That strain tends to cause more deaths and hospitalizations, especially in the elderly.
The ingredients are selected very early in the year, based on predictions of what strains will circulate the following winter.
The three most deadly flu seasons of the last 10 years — in the winters of 2003-2004, 2007-2008, and 2012-2013 — were H3N2 seasons, each with a particular version of that flu type.
In March 2014, after the H3N2 vaccine strain was vaccine production was underway, health officials noted the appearance new and different strain of H3N2.
But health officials weren’t sure if the new strain would become a significant problem in the United States this winter until recently, they said.
Since, lab specimens from patients showed that the most commonly seen flu bug in 2014 was the new strain of H3N2.
It is not uncommon to misinterpret how flu will mutate, Professor John Oxford explained in a recent article for the Hippocratic Post, published on DailyMail.com.
‘We very often get our predictions wrong simply because the virus mutates faster than we can keep up,’ he said.
Compared to the Zika virus, it is a menace, Professor Oxford explained.
Having barely changed in 50 years, the Zika virus is perfect for a vaccine.
The flu, however, is more complicated.
But he says that does not mean we should not get vaccines.
‘The good news is that we do produce vaccines that work most of the time for most of the people, and innovations like Tamiflu can protect people further who at high risk of infection,’ he wrote.
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