Abby Peterson’s death is being blamed on chickenpox in news articles across the nation. The viral new reports, including current reports from ABC and ABC affiliates, are minimizing key elements of the reality surrounding Abby Peterson’s heartbreaking death in 2001. Articles with headlines like “Mom Advocates for Vaccines After Losing Daughter To Chicken Pox” and “Mom whose child died of chicken pox advocates for vaccines” are being shared by the masses; however, these headlines overlook the sad reality of Abby Peterson’s death to focus on chickenpox.
The Peterson child had a very compromised immune system. She was born without a spleen. The spleen plays a crucial role within the immune system because it purifies the blood and helps the immune system recognize and fight infections. Congenital Asplenia (being born without a spleen) is a kind of immunodeficiency. Missing this organ significantly increases the risk of sepsis from certain bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae.
This month, a first-person account written by Abby Peterson’s mother was posted by Parents With Kids With Infectious Diseases. Shannon Duffy Peterson wrote:
“In 2001, my five-year-old daughter became a statistic when she died of a vaccine-preventable disease. Abigale became infected with pneumococcal bacteria during the 2001 influenza vaccine shortage. She was not vaccinated for either disease.”
Peterson then explained, in her own words, that her daughter became sick, had a headache and had a temperature of 101.5. Peterson wrote, “We thought this was strange because she’d had the same illness and a sinus infection two weeks earlier, but she was in kindergarten and we knew of the many germs the kids pass around.” She called the ER after a rash started to develop, but she attributed the rash to the “high” fever, and the ER told her to alternate Tylenol and Motrin. Her mother was unaware that her daughter had a kind of congenital immunodeficiency.
The Motrin and Tylenol suggested by the ER fought against her fever, which was something Abby’s immune system had going for it. Mrs. Peterson recounts, “Throughout the night we kept changing her bedding and bathing her to break the fever, even though she seemed pretty lethargic,” but the girl’s parents disrupted her rest to reduce it at the advice of the ER professional’s advice. There is reason to believe that treating this natural response to infection can seriously affect the body’s ability to fight disease:
“Fever exerts an overall adverse effect on the growth of bacteria and the replication of viruses… Fever may also be beneficial in febrile children with meningitis compared to those who are afebrile or hypothermic, who were reported to have died,” The Archive of Disease in Childhood, a BMJ publication, stated.
In cases of early sepsis, according to a report in the Oxford Journals, it is not recommended to try to reduce fevers at temperatures lower than 105.8, because many studies show a significantly increased death rate when body temperatures are reduced.
“… our pediatrician came in with Abby’s preliminary autopsy results, stating that she’d had overwhelming sepsis caused by streptococcus pneumonia, congenital asplenia (absence of a spleen) and hemorrhagic adrenal glands,” Mrs. Peterson wrote.
Peterson said nothing of chickenpox in her account of the preliminary autopsy reports from 2001 in her blog post this month, but chickenpox is being described as the cause of her death in media reports, as though streptococcus pneumonia could not have caused her death on its own. Abby had a blood infection from streptococcus pneumonia, this is unfortunately too common for people with no spleen. The adrenal gland hemorrhage the doctor noted can be caused by the same infection that caused her sepsis.
For children missing this organ, pneumococcal vaccinations are considered imperative by most infectious disease experts. Also, these children are regularly put on a regimen of constant antibiotics and are always given antibiotics during any fever as a prophylactic measure. Unfortunately, no one knew of her abnormality until her death. Kids with the condition have a 20 to 100 times higher rate of pneumococcal (Streptococcus pneumoniae) infection compared to healthy children.
Immediately after Abby Peterson’s death, her brother became ill with the same symptoms, according to Shannon Peterson. “With hospitalization and medication he recovered enough to be released from the hospital in time to attend his sister’s funeral,” Peterson wrote. The heartbreaking reality is that the Peterson child’s death resulted from her dysfunctional immune system. Isolated congenital asplenia, where there are no other birth defects, has only been officially documented less than 100 times, according to News Medical. Abby Peterson’s death was a heartbreaking, but exceptionally rare, situation where both her diagnosis of immunodeficiency and proper treatment before and during her infection were absent, but the media blames “Chicken Pox.”