Seven-year-old Houston boy dies on vacation with parents

July 18, 2012 2:39:57 PM PDT
A young boy from Spring was on vacation with his family in California when something life-threatening happened. His family tells us it all happened so quickly.

Vita Alatini, 7, was on vacation with his family in San Diego. He hadn't been swimming and he was having fun when his parents noticed he had a fever. He threw up and his cousin says Vita's parents saw a bruise under his arm that was spreading fast.

Vita's cousin Nicole Tolson was there with the family, and is now home in Utah. She told me "he passed away six hours after signs of the very first symptom. He was taken to the hospital there at Camp Pendleton, where they started him on antibiotics. He was then life-flighted to the children's hospital. Minutes after being on the ground there, he passed away."

"His parents were deeply hurt but support from family, friends and the community have made things a little bit easier," Tolson added.

Vita may have had flesh-eating disease. Experts say if so, it can start with a common germ.

"The same germ that causes strep throat causes many of these, but for reasons we don't understand, the patient has a very unusual reaction to the presence of the germ and the person's immune system kind of goes crazy," said Dr. Jeffrey Starke, the Director of Infection Control at Texas Children's Hospital.

Vita's cousin said he did have a problem with his immune system and that a cold could send him to the hospital. But Vita had been healthy on their family vacation.

Dr. Starke said, "The most important thing is usually pain. It really, really, really, really, really hurts."

Dr. Starke says Texas Children's Hospital treats one child a month with flesh-eating disease. He says watch out for these symptoms:

  • Severe pain at the spot of the infection
  • Skin gets red, swollen, and it spreads quickly
  • High fever
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Child acts "out of it"
"It's not the bump that happened yesterday and it's become a little bit red today and you notice a little bit of drainage," said Dr. Korsh Jafarnia, an orthopedic surgeon with Methodist Hospital. "It's the bump you notice that's spreading over the course of an hour or two."

"We'll miss his cute little smile so much," Tolson said. "Even though his health wasn't always great, he always had a smile on his face."

Again, watch an infection with redness, swelling, and is more painful than it ought to be. One doctor told me the skin may feel a little "crackly" too.

Experts say there may be a link between flesh-eating disease and chicken pox. People who aren't vaccinated for chicken pox are more at risk. So getting your family's vaccinations up to date is a good idea.

Finally, to reassure parents, doctors say we are hearing more about tragic cases, but they believe the vaccinations have actually reduced the number of people who have flesh eating disease.


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