Austin Booth didn’t feel well, but he didn’t want to miss school. It was a game day, and the basketball player didn’t want to miss the chance to play.
Six days later, he was dead.
Austin Booth didn’t have some strange medical condition or contract a rare deadly virus. The healthy teen died of the flu. Never one to miss school, Booth had finished the day at school, played well in the basketball game that evening, and had even picked up and gone to school the next day, despite not feeling well. His basketball coach sent him home from practice. By about 10 PM the next night, Austin was coughing up blood. His mother, Regina, immediately took him to the emergency room, but it was too late.
“He went from being a healthy, vibrant 17-year-old boy to being gone in less than a week,” his mother, Regina Booth, said in a telephone interview with NBC News. The teen’s organ’s began shutting down, and he died a mere six days after his first symptoms.
Surprisingly, Austin’s story is not unusual. A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 43 percent of American children who died from flu this year were perfectly healthy beforehand. The study, which was released Thursday, notes that conditions such as cerebral palsy and asthma can make flu especially dangerous for a child, that doesn’t mean that healthy children are out of harm’s way. In fact, researchers warn that “there’s no way to tell which children will become seriously ill or even die from seasonal flu.”
In fact, the healthier kids died faster. Previously healthy kids who died from the flu died an average of four days after their first symptom. Kids who had preexisting conditions died within a week.
Austin had also missed his flu shot that year.
When Regina took her son to the hospital, he was put in a medical coma and pumped with antibiotics. “But it was more than he could do,” the mother of five said, “His organs started to shut down.” Austin died four days later.
Austin was a healthy kid. He played every sport he could and never wanted to miss a day of school. He was “strong, healthy.” His parents “assumed he had an awesome immune system,” and didn’t worry.
Regina also admits to not having Austin vaccinated that year, even though they knew it was peak flu season and other kids on Austin’s team had come down with the flu. “I was one of those people who didn’t think they needed it,” Booth says. “I was one of those people who thought if you get the shot, you are going to get sick.”
Looking back on her son’s last days, the teen’s mother reflects:
“If I would have taken him to the doctor sooner they would have said he has the flu and sent him home. Nothing would have changed. The only thing I look back at now — I wish we would have gotten the flu shot that year.”
The common belief that the vaccination will make you sick, and lack of motivation, are often what keep people from getting vaccinated each year, even though the flu kills anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans each year.
“Because the study did find a lot of otherwise healthy kids who did have influenza-associated deaths and because we know deaths can happen fast, prevention is best, and the best prevention is the vaccine,” said Dr. Karen Wong, who led the CDC study.
Despite study findings, and despite the fact that the flu kills so many people each year, only a third of children in Austin’s age group – 13 to 17 -are vaccinated.
Austin’s parents are now “joining with health officials to warn parents that no matter how healthy a child is, the deadly disease can strike without warning,” notes The Daily Mail. Regina is also a flu vaccine advocate for Families Fighting Flu, “a volunteer based advocacy group supporting families who have lost a child to influenza.” Her four remaining children – ages 16, 12, 7, and 3 – are now all up-to-date with their flu vaccinations. Regina is also expecting a baby in December.
Readers: How do you feel about vaccinations? Do you vaccinate yourself and your children against the flu virus?