The death of middle-schooler Dylan Winnik from the flu this week woke up Palm Beach County residents to the dangers of the virus.
Outside of the Publix pharmacy in Lantana on Thursday people lined up to receive flu shots.
The reason, the store’s pharmacist said: Winnik.
The flu panic could be seen elsewhere as well.
At Palms West Hospital in Wellington, the lobby brimmed with people, many wearing surgical masks to keep from spreading the virus.
Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center reported Wednesday it converted a storage room to make room for flu patients.
Walk-in clinics also were inundated.
Dylan was 12 years old when he died within 48 hours of coming down with flu-like symptoms.
Purple ribbons adorned mailboxes outside of the boy’s West Palm Beach home — on a dead-end street called Sunset near the airport.
His body had been discovered by a neighbor Tuesday.
A few answers came Thursday as to why the flu had taken the boy known for his humor.
Mike Medwin, partner to Dylan’s mother, said the county medical examiner’s office told him the boy died when his lungs filled up from “complications from a very aggressive form of the flu.”
The flu had brought on pneumonia, the medical examiner had told the family, Medwin said, and that caused the boy’s lungs to fill with fluid.
The medical examiner’s office did not return calls for comment. An autopsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of his death, sheriff’s authorities said.
Fourth young person to die
Dylan — who had not received a flu vaccine— is the fourth child to die in the state this year as the result of influenza, according to the Florida Department of Health. The Centers for Disease Control report that 30 children have died nationally.
“This is a tragedy that no parent can imagine,” said Juanita, a 28-year-old mother who lives a few homes away from the one Dylan shared with his father.
While the flu — specifically the strain type A, H3N2, the most prevalent this season — has already killed 300 people in Florida, what’s unusual about Dylan’s death, health professionals say, is his age.
Fatal cases involving the flu normally fall among the very young or very old, and other “high-risk” groups including pregnant women and people with chronic pulmonary conditions, said Dr. Adam Leisy, medical director in the emergency department at West Boca Medical Center.
The flu has business booming in his emergency room, Leisy said.
“Unfortunately, this year has been pretty bad,” Leisy said. “The peaks have been much higher than in most years.”
Leisy speaks from experience, and not just in his role as a doctor. His young child was hospitalized just before the beginning of the year after contracting the flu.
“Thankfully, he’s okay,” Leisy reported.
He felt better before getting worse
Dylan also seemed okay Tuesday, telling his father, Sergio Winnik, that he loved him before the elder Winnik left home to become a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony on the South Florida Fairgrounds.
The boy had a 102-degree fever Monday night, according to his father, but that normalized to 98 degrees after he took fever-reducing medication. On Tuesday, Dylan woke up feeling better. He ate waffles but declined his dad’s invitation to attend the ceremony.
“He said, ‘I want to stay here and watch TV,’” Winnik said.
About an hour after leaving, Winnik called his son, who did not answer. Winnik called a neighbor to check on Dylan. The boy was found unresponsive in the bathroom.
The flu can lead to secondary complications, Leisy said, like primary influenza pneumonia, which “is rare in adults, but seen more frequently in children, and it’s a lot more dangerous.”
Was the hurricane partly to blame?
In England and elsewhere around the world, this strain is being dubbed the “Aussie flu” because it ravaged that continent last year.
In Florida, residents may want to call it Irma’s revenge.
The founder of MD Now said the flu now ravaging through Palm Beach County may have been exacerbated by no less than Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. The storm hit Florida in September, leaving thousands without power for days and clean-up work for weeks.
“As a result, I don’t think as many people got their flu shots,” said Dr. Peter Lamelas, founder of 33 MD Now Urgent Care Clinics in South Florida. “Some flu shots got spoiled and people were distracted by other things.”
He said his clinics have been overrun with patients suffering from the flu. Staff have been issuing surgical masks to flu-ridden patients in the waiting rooms. Winter visitors have also brought the flu with them, Lamelas added.
“This has been the busiest flu season I can recall in a long time,” Lamelas said. “And it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. We haven’t seen a decrease.”
And now his clinic doctors are catching the bug. Two were out Thursday.
Palm Beach Post staff reporter Kristina Webb contributed to this report.