Two days ago I went with my daughter to the pediatrician to check out her 20 month old who had a fever and rash. Viral origin, probably. Also an ear infection. Pretty much par for the course at this time of year. But lots of little ones and their older sibs weren’t so lucky this flu season. As we’ve had too many occasions to mention, the severity of the 2009 pandemic has yet to be gauged, but trying to compare it to seasonal flu is misleading as its epidemiology is very different. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the melancholy figures for pediatric deaths.
Since the beginning of September CDC has registered 265 flu deaths in children under the age of 18. Here’s how that compares with past seasons:
This is pretty dramatic, even more so when we look at the distribution within the pediatric age group. 48 deaths were in babies and toddlers (less than 2 years old), 30 in children 2 – 4 years old, 98 in the 5 – 11 year age group and 89 in pre-teens and teens (12 – 17 years old). Thus well over two-thirds of the mortality is in children over 5 years old.
For a parent or a grandparent these are chilling numbers, but they are only numbers. The late epidemiologist Irving Selikoff once referred to a statistic as “people with the tears wiped away.” A friend, referring to someone who lost a child, shook his head and just said, “It’s off the scale.”
I look at my little grandson and I look at that graph and all I can think is: Yes. Off the scale.