Manitoba dad who nearly lost son to flu warns others about the sickness

Carson Callum is sharing his family’s experience in hopes of warning others after their child fell ill with influenza and almost died.

The Manitoba dad told Global News his 19-month-old son, Sullivan, had a bad fever that began Christmas evening and he didn’t seem to be getting any better after a number of days.

“Seemed like he was getting worse,” he said.

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He said he took his son to a walk-in clinic on Dec. 29, where he was advised to go to Children’s Emergency “based on labor breathing oxygen levels in his blood.”

From there, Sullivan was hospitalized and treated for influenza and Callum said he was in very bad condition.

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“He continued to deteriorate for a couple of days after, he couldn’t breathe without oxygen assistance, which led to him being admitted to the ICU for a couple of days starting on Jan. 1.”

Sullivan Callum in the hospital being treated for the flu. Courtesy Carson Callum

Thankfully, Sullivan was able to make a full recovery and went home on Jan. 7.

“(It was) a nightmare to deal with but my brave little lion, he got through it and he was the one that was truly fighting,” Callum said.

The family is now thanking health-care heroes for saving Sullivan and giving him the extra support he needed to breathe.

“The team there was just incredible to make those decisions that were really life-saving,” said Callum.

“The staff and all health-care professionals at HSC Children’s are just incredible. And without them, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

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Callum said the influenza virus is a rough one for kids Sullivan’s age, a statement Dawn Browdish from the McMaster University of Medicine agrees with.

“Influenza generally causes most severe disease in those who are too young, so don’t have a lot of immune experience to draw on,” she said, “so this year, of course, (flu) dominated the news cycle with the incredibly high number of infections in kids.”

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Around Dec. 14, 2022, doctors reported the hospital was seeing an influx of children admitted into intensive care with influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

While the surge in sick kids has fallen somewhat since then, officials said on Jan. 4, the hospital is still seeing high patient volumes, particularly infants and toddlers.

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Children’s Hospital sees huge uptick in young patients early in flu season

There’s a very common pattern of infections where kids tend to get infected earlier and the school system tends to be a factor for those infections,” said Bowdish.

Kids under five were the most at risk at the start of flu season, according to the province. However, that has now shifted with higher infection rates being reported in those aged 65 and older, thanks in part to holiday gatherings.

“What we see are families are socializing together and there tends to be the transfer of the infections to older adults,” Bowdish said.

“So if you look at the incidence curves for kids and adults, you’ll see that the kids peak first and then the adults come up a little bit more slowly, especially older adults.”

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Bowdish stresses the importance of vaccination for families; she said “lower infection rates in kids means lower infection rates in grandparents.”

And according to provincial data, only 25 per cent of Manitobans received their shots this flu season.

Bowdish said getting vaccinated for influenza also protects people from bacterial infections.

“Influenza vaccination doesn’t just protect you from influenza. It protects you from bacterial infections that frequently happen after influenza as you’re having an influenza infection,” she said.

“Some of the immune responses you need to deal with the virus leave you susceptible to bacteria that often manifests in bacterial pneumonia or things like group-based strep.”

It is especially important for pregnant women to get vaccinated because it will protect their child, Bowdish adds.

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“Young babies ended up in the hospital a lot this year, and that can be prevented because if mom gets vaccinated while she’s pregnant, she passes on that immunity to those really young babies before they can develop their own.”

Bowdish said uptake of vaccination in pregnant women has been at historic lows “Likely due to some of the misinformation around the COVID pandemic and COVID vaccines.”

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Data shows 605 Manitobans have been hospitalized for the flu to date with six people ending up in the ICU and 50 people losing their lives to the virus.

– with files from Global’s Shane Gibson and Marney Blunt

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