BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — Health officials are looking into recent pandemics such as H1N1 and SARS for cues on how to fight COVID-19.
Emily Sousa, of Bristol, lost her younger sister to H1N1 and is now stressing the importance of listening to the warnings and taking precautions.
“My family was a part of the .002 percent of the population that was affected by this, and no one ever expected, not only a little family like ours, from Bristol, Rhode Island, that something like this would happen, but it did,” she said.
Sousa’s younger sister Victoria was only 12 years old when she unexpectedly passed away from H1N1 – also known as swine flu – in October 2009.
Sousa said her sister was young and had no underlying health conditions.
“She was perfectly healthy, going to school, going to soccer practice, playing with her friends,” she recalled. “We don’t know where she contracted this virus, but we do know that it was from somebody.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of H1N1 deaths globally were estimated to occur in people younger than 65 years of age. The CDC says 70-80% of deaths occur in people over 65 for more typical flu strains.
COVID-19 is different and scientists are still investigating, but the CDC says people 60 years or older or with pre-existing conditions are most at risk. The virus is also far more contagious.
While young people were thought to be at little risk, evidence now shows children and teens are susceptible.
“If we are doing what we did now back in 2009, Victoria could still be here, and that’s the message that I want to drive home,” Sousa said.
It’s an important reminder for young people who may not be taking social distancing seriously.
“If we just take the selfishness out of it and think of others, and put other people’s lives ahead of our own, then this will be over and we can move on from this, and it will be much less of a crisis than it needs to be,” Sousa added.
Both state and federal guidelines say to stay at least six feet away from others and keep gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force says this is crucial over the next two weeks.
“I want people to take Victoria’s story and really learn from it,” Sousa said. “You don’t have to be old, you don’t have to be sick, and also, you don’t want to be the reason that someone else gets critically ill from this.”
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