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Town administrator's daughter shares swine flu experience: 'This flu was tough after all'

Stephanie Shippen with Eleanor, center, and little sister Avery. - Contributed photo / King Fitch
Stephanie Shippen with Eleanor, center, and little sister Avery.
— image credit: Contributed photo / King Fitch

Friday Harbor Town Administrator King Fitch has a daughter and grandchildren in Nashville, where the H1N1 flu virus re-emerged this fall. His 8-year-old granddaughter, Eleanor, was one of the first to become ill — and she became very ill.

At Fitch's request, his daughter, Stephanie Shippen, described the experience in an e-mail to share with people who have not yet seen the effect swine flu can have on young children. Here is her description of how the disease progressed:

My eight-year-old daughter recently became the first student in her third-grade class to be diagnosed with H1N1 flu. I had her tested to reassure a pregnant family friend we had recently visited. I was very surprised by the diagnosis.

Eleanor seemed fine with just a slight headache and low fever. So we stayed home from school for three days until she was fever free. Eleanor's spirits were great and her symptoms were very mild. I thought we were getting off easy.

Our doctor had warned us that this flu could rear its ugly head again with a cough, but I felt confident about sending her back to school. Then I got the call from the school nurse: Eleanor's fever was back. At 2 p.m., it was 101.5 degrees. By the time we got home 30 minutes, later it was 104. Eleanor had a dose of liquid Motrin™ and rested on the couch. When I checked on her, her fever had risen to 104.9 instead of going down. I called the doctor who recommended giving her a dose of liquid Tylenol™ right away.

Her fever only went back down to 104. Now we had to try a cold shower and call the doctor back with her progress. By this time we were both crying and I was scared. Eleanor's demeanor changed rapidly. This flu was tough after all. Eleanor's fever went to 103.8 and finally down to 102.5. We relaxed a bit. Then she started vomiting.

Thankfully, she was well-hydrated and she recovered enough from the vomiting to sleep. I was grateful that I had followed our doctor's advice about keeping her drinking liquids and resting throughout the week. It really helped her battle back the resurgence of symptoms. Having a digital thermometer and the over-the-counter fever-reducing medicine already at home allowed me to work with her doctor in her treatment.

The good news is that her little sister and I didn't contract the flu. The bad news is that this flu hit hard and lingered. Eleanor is finally back at school but is still getting her strength back. We plan on getting both sets of flu shots as soon as possible!

After reading Stephanie Shippen’s account, San Juan County Health Officer Dr. Frank James commented:

King’s daughter and granddaughter were fortunate to be well-prepared and well-informed about flu. One of the most serious issues for children and adults who get the new flu is secondary bacterial or viral pneumonia. Children that are mildly ill but then develop fever and especially a cough are at risk for becoming so sick they can require hospitalization.

Influenza weakens the body's defenses and can promote serious complications, especially if the individual has an underlying health condition such as asthma.

Our public health nurses, in partnership with the schools, will be reaching out to all families whose children become ill with flu-like symptoms to be sure they have the information they need to care for their children at home, to know when to seek medical advice and when it will be safe to return to school.

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