Girl, 4, loses eyesight after near-fatal bout with flu

Mark Puleo

It took just mere weeks to turn what looked like a common illness into near-fatal conditions and potentially permanent blindness for a 4-year-old girl in Iowa. Amanda Phillips, mother of afflicted Jade DeLucia, could only watch in horror as complications from Influenza B nearly turned fatal for her daughter.

"I didn't think I would see her again," Phillips said.

What began as a "normal bug," according to her mother, quickly escalated into a Christmas Eve hospitalization. Phillips said DeLucia's unresponsiveness is what caused them to rush the girl to the emergency room.

Jade DeLucia, pictured here being held by her mother, Amanda Phillips, suffered severe complications after a bout with Influenza B. (ABC News)

DeLucia returned home on Jan. 9 to begin her new life after a terrifying two-week ordeal at the University of Iowa's Stead Family Children's Hospital. During her time, she was also treated in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.

The bubbly 4-year-old girl's situation turned from worrisome to dreadful due to a condition known as acute necrotizing encephalopathy, a reaction from the B strand of this season's influenza virus. The complications caused inflammation in her brain and eventually left DeLucia blind.

Amanda Phillips Jade flu
Amanda Phillips comforts her 4-year-old daughter, Jade, after the girl lost her vision from complications brought on by a nearly fatal bout with influenza B. (ABC News)

According to NBC News, the encephalopathy complication is extremely rare, occurring in just about 1 in 5 million cases.

"I'm trying to hold on to what I can control right now," Phillips told ABC News while holding a crying Jade. "Which is just giving her the best possible care."


Dr. Alex Bassuk, the division director of Pediatric Neurology at the hospital, told Good Morning America that, basically, Jade's body overcompensated in fighting the infection and inflicted itself.

"We think that what has happened in this case is there was an infection with influenza and then the body sort of overcompensates when it is fighting the infection," he said. "Sometimes instead of fighting the infection, it starts fighting itself, and in this case, it can fight the brain."

As Jade's brain became inflamed, her vision became affected and eventually nullified. Doctors hold hope, however, that her rare case isn't permanent.

"Many of the children, especially when it happens in younger children, can recover significantly and we definitely have hope in this case there will be significant recovery," said Bassuk. "But there can be permanent outcome from this process."

In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, a nurse prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta. According to the CDC, flu costs the nation about $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity among working-age adults. That's not to mention the heavy toll of hospitalizations and deaths that occurs mainly among people 65 and older. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Doctors told Phillips that the permanency of Jade's blindness can't be determined for at least six months.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Influenza B virus is the most common strain nationally this season. Even though deaths due to the flu are relatively rare for children, data compile by the CDC shows, hospitalizations for children under 5 years old have ranged each year between 7,000 and 26,000.

The agency estimates that nearly 10 million Americans have been infected with the flu this season, with nearly 5,000 deaths reported.

Cold conditions during winter time can help the flu virus thrive and spread further, according to experts. Humidity and the amount of water vapor present in the air can also play a role in the survival and spread of the flu virus.

The CDC and Phillips both strongly encourage parents to vaccinate their kids. Jade didn't receive a vaccination this season and Phillips is urging other parents to avoid that mistake.

"It's your child," she said. "You want them to live a long and healthy life, to do whatever you can to make that happen. Any preventative measure you can take, take it."

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