State’s Latest Flu Victim is 4-year-old Girl from Lowell
A 4-year-old Lowell girl is the suspected victim of the second flu-associated pediatric death in Middlesex County this season, and the third death in the state.
McDonough Funeral Home confirmed Wednesday morning that Puthiraksmey “Raksmey” Sopheak, who died Saturday at Lowell General Hospital, was the child whose flu-related death was reported to state health officials Tuesday.
Funeral Director Jack McDonough said the family is requesting privacy and declined to speak with a reporter.
The young girl’s father, Sopheak Paak, told WCVB Tuesday night that Raksmey became sick last week and he brought her to Lowell General Hospital last Tuesday when her fever reached 99 degrees and she was coughing up blood. He said he was told she had the flu, and they were sent home with orders to give her acetaminophen, known by the brand name Tylenol.
A grieving and emotional Paak told WCVB that Raksmey seemed better at first, but took a sharp turn for the worse Saturday. He called 911, and an ambulance rushed her back to the hospital, where she later died.
According to the report, Paak was worried that Raksmey, having just returned from Cambodia in September, may have suffered from another illness and was awaiting final word from the medical examiner on the cause of her death.
“We offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family over the tragic loss of their daughter,” Lowell General Hospital spokesman Will Courtney said in an emailed statement. “Patient privacy rules prohibit us from commenting any further at this time.”
According to an obituary from McDonough Funeral Home, Raksmey was born at Lowell General Hospital on Dec. 30, 2014, the daughter of Paak and Sokkruy Yang, both of Lowell.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes lungs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website states.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches, chills, headache, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
The CDC released numbers showing there have been between 15.4 million to 17.8 million flu illnesses this flu season, which began Oct. 1. There have also been between 11,600 to 19,100 flu deaths, the CDC website states.
The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older receive a flu shot every year. The agency says the vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu.
It was unknown Wednesday evening if Raksmey had received a flu shot this season.
A debate about the effectiveness of flu vaccine has raged publicly. Some other types of vaccines, including those against measles, mumps and rubella, are more effective in preventing people from getting sick than the flu vaccine, according to an article release by the Associated Press.
Experts say flu is a quick-changing and elusive target.
However, preliminary figures suggest the flu vaccine is 47 percent effective this season in preventing flu illness severe enough to send someone to a doctor’s office, the Associated Press reported earlier this month. Health officials are generally pleased if a vaccine works in 40 percent to 60 percent of people.
“We have patients who decline having flu shots,” said Sarah Hall, a nurse practitioner with Westford Internal Medicine. “We usually explain to them it’s their best defense against the flu.”
Hall referenced myths that exist about the flu shot, including a link between the vaccine and the development of autism.
“There’s a lot of literature in the medical world that says there is no link between vaccines and autism, and we should not prevent or delay vaccinations because of that reason,” Hall said.
Hall described the flu as extremely contagious. Developing the illness and passing it can be prevented by washing hands frequently, coughing into the elbow and avoiding being around people who are sick.
“Typically, the worst of it lasts three days, and then people start to get better,” Hall said. “It’s usually about a week. If at any point during that time people have shortness of breath, chest pain, severe or persistent vomiting, or significant dizziness or confusion, people should be seen in an emergency room.”
Visiting hours for Raksmey are scheduled for Friday, beginning at 3 p.m., at Glory Buddhist Temple, 24 Cambridge St., Lowell. A funeral will be held Saturday morning, with a procession leaving the temple at 8 a.m., for Merrimack Crematory in Merrimack, N.H.
Staff reporters Alana Melanson and Aaron Curtis wrote this report. Follow Alana at facebook.com/ alana.lowellsun or Twitter @alanamelanson, or email her at amelanson@lowell sun.com . Follow Aaron on Twitter @aselahcurtis, or email him at acurtis @lowellsun.com .