'Smash and grab' flu claims victim

by ROBIN YAPP, Daily Mail

The parents of lively three-year-old Tamara Whitty thought she was recovering well from a bout of illness.

Hours later they watched her die in hospital.

Tamara is believed to be one of the victims of the deadly Fujian flu which has claimed at least six other young lives in Britain.

It struck with a swiftness previously associated more with meningitis, causing doctors to describe it as a 'smash and grab' virus.

Yesterday Tamara's family joined health experts in urging parents to be extra-vigilant against this disturbing new threat to their children.

Her father Stephen, 37, a company director, and his wife Lynette, 36, from Warndon, Worcestershire, are too distraught to talk about the tragedy.

But Tamara's aunt, Christina Whittome, told how their 'beautiful, vivacious little girl' was so cruelly taken from them.

Mrs Whittome, an air hostess, said Tamara and her twin brother Christian became ill at the same time but it was Christian who seemed to be showing all the signs of flu.

'Lynette had taken him to the doctor and was advised to give him Nurofen and Calpol. Tamara was doing OK.

'But then the day before she died she complained that she felt achey in her arms and legs. She also had a temperature, a cough and sore throat, but not a high fever which is what they tell you to look out for.'

She said Tamara's mother gave her Nurofen and Calpol and the next day she had her appetite back and put on her favourite Barbie dress to dance to Top of the Pops.

But at 1am she woke her mother, gasping 'Mummy, Mummy' and struggling to breathe, so Mrs Whitty called an ambulance which took her to Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

'Stephen was desperately trying to resuscitate Tamara but her jaw locked,' added Mrs Whittome. 'She went into spasm and her face went blue. In hospital about 12 doctors worked on her for what seemed like hours.

'They were fantastic but no matter how they tried there was nothing they could do. They told Lynette and Stephen that Tamara was very sick and that her brain had been starved of oxygen.

'They warned that she would be severely brain damaged. Then a little while later she took a turn for the worse. She couldn't breathe and slipped away while Lynette and Stephen were by her side.'

Mr and Mrs Whitty are still awaiting confirmation from the coroner on whether the Fujian strain of flu was to blame.

But six other youngsters aged 18 months to 16 have already fallen victim to it and Tamara's death on November 21 is one of three still being investigated as possible cases.

Experts believe the outbreak is potentially the most serious for years, with babies and children up to four seeming to be most vulnerable. They think Fujian flu exploits a weakness in young immune systems, causing often-fatal complications.

Professor John Oxford, head of virology at the London Queen Mary School of Medicine, said: 'Fujian flu can strike quickly and the symptoms are quite difficult to identify in a three-year-old.

'They can't really tell you what they are feeling so it can be difficult even for an experienced doctor to diagnose. Parents need to be particularly vigilant and go quickly to their doctor because if they do there are drugs that can be prescribed.

'It's a smash and grab virus and it's difficult to say what it will do next. Fujian flu can come on rapidly and take effect very quickly. Sometimes deaths from flu come when it is prolonged due to complications and sometimes it's very rapid and it's all over in two or three days.

'The deaths from Fujian flu seem to have been fairly quick. It appears violently on the scene and you never know where it will come up next.

'One is rather fearful of what could happen should it develop into an epidemic. It highlights the danger to children as never before.'

Mrs Whittome, 41, added: ' We want all mummies and daddies to know about Tamara. We don't want this to happen to anyone else's child.

'We want all parents to know that a child doesn't need to have all the signs of flu. Get them checked out anyway. It's better to be safe than sorry.

'We still can't really comprehend that Tamara has gone. She was so full of life.'

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