Twelve-year-old Jasmine Levy woke up late Sunday night, complaining that she wasn't feeling well. So her mother gave her Tylenol and sent her back to bed.
A few hours later, Jasmine's younger sister Danielle woke up, saying she, too, was sick. Their mom planned to take the girls to the doctor the next morning, said Susan Alonzo, their step-grandmother. But when she went to check on Jasmine, it was too late.
The seventh-grader at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis died early Monday of complications of the flu, according to health officials. Her sister Danielle was rushed by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center, where she was in intensive care in a drug-induced coma for several days, Alonzo said, presumably with the same strain of influenza.
By Friday, Danielle was recovering and heading home from the hospital as the family prepared for her sister's funeral Monday.
Jasmine was the first child in Minnesota to die of the flu this season, officials said. Six children died of flu last year.
News of her death, coupled with a federal recommendation this week to expand flu shots to all kids more than 6 months old, prompted state health officials to announce new flu shot clinics in the Twin Cities. They start today and run through next Saturday.
"This reminds all of us that we still need to protect ourselves and our families from the flu," said Mary Ann Blade of the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency, which is running the clinics.
Jasmine, who had asthma, had not had a flu shot, according to Alonzo, because her mother had no health insurance.
Officials say the flu kills a number of children every year, and that it's especially dangerous for children like Jasmine, who have underlying health problems.
Alonzo said it all happened so quickly that there was nothing the girl's mother, Andrea Alonzo, could have done to save her. Jasmine, the eldest of three girls, developed a staph infection as a complication of the flu.
"The doctor told her it happened in a matter of two hours when her lungs filled up," Alonzo said. "He said, you know, Andrea, there's nothing you could have done."
Jasmine, who loved to sing and dance and play basketball, first fell ill on Saturday or Sunday, Susan Alonzo said. "She had a cough and stuff, (but) she was still running around like she was okay," she said. Her mother didn't even know she had the flu, she said. "Andrea had given her some medicine and told her to go back to bed, like any parent would," she said.
When she looked in on her at about 3 a.m., "Jasmine had passed." Her sister Danielle was hospitalized after the family called 911. She was the only other member of the family who became ill, Alonzo said.
State health officials offered their sympathies to the family and said they were announcing the girl's death to draw attention to the potential dangers and encourage flu shots.
This week, the federal government's advisory committee on vaccines voted to recommend flu shots for all children, ages 6 months to 18 years, within the next two years.
"We know that children can die of influenza; we've learned from this very sad case this week," said Patricia Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and director of infectious disease at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
Stinchfield was on the advisory committee that voted to recommend flu shots for all children. The ultimate goal, she said, is "universal influenza vaccination for all Americans." But she said that vaccinating school-age kids could help stem the spread of the disease to the people most at risk, such as infants and the elderly.
This year, health officials have found that some of the flu strains in circulation are not covered by this year's flu vaccine. But they say it can still offer some protection, and help prevent serious complications. "You have to remember that if you don't vaccinate, you have zero protection," said Kris Ehresmann, who heads the vaccine program at the Minnesota Department of Health.
She said there is plenty of flu vaccine available and that it is not too late to be vaccinated. The flu season usually peaks in February, but can continue into April.
Flu shots will be available for $14 today and next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency, 3433 Broadway St. N.E., Suite 300, Minneapolis, and next Friday and Saturday at 20 Cub Food stores. Flu shots are also available, at varying fees, at Target store clinics and other locations. To find a flu shot clinic, go to www.mdhflu.com.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384