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A three-year-old girl died from swine flu within 48 hours of developing symptoms over Christmas, her parents said today.
Gemma and Zana Ameen, a healthcare assistant and a doctor, released a picture of their daughter, Lana, in intensive care as they called for all children to be vaccinated against the virus, which has killed 50 people this winter and left hundreds requiring critical care. Lana was not eligible for the flu jab under current rules because she had no underlying health problems.
She developed what appeared to be a cold on Christmas Eve and was prescribed cough medicine, but woke screaming in the night with a high temperature. Her parents took her to hospital, where she was diagnosed with an infection.
Doctors brought her temperature down and sent her home. On Christmas Day she appeared better, managing to open her presents and eat some dinner, the Ameens said, but later began having fits and was taken back to Stepping Hill hospital, Stockport, in an ambulance.
Over the next three hours, she was revived three times, her parents said, before being moved to a special care unit at Alder Hey hospital, Liverpool where, on Boxing Day, doctors told the couple she was brain dead and switched off her life support machine. Tests showed she died of swine flu.
Ms Ameen, 28, who is three months pregnant, said: "Lana was very healthy. She's hardly ever been ill, just the odd cold here and there. It can kill young, fit and healthy people in such a short space of time. It's just about how your body reacts to the virus. Some people can fight it off, and some people can't.
"If everyone can just have the vaccine... it would stop the spread. It should be freely available. You can't pick and choose who deserves certain medication. Everyone, even adults, not just children, has a right to protect themselves. The government should not be picking and choosing to say that person doesn't qualify to be protected against something."
The couple, who live in Birmingham but had been staying with family in Stockport, have complained to Stepping Hill hospital, where they both used to work, about the care Lana received.
Dr Chris Burke, chief executive of Stockport NHS foundation trust, said: "The trust sends its condolences to the family of Lana Ameen. Our staff are deeply distressed at her sad death. "The trust has begun a preliminary senior case review of the treatment provided to Lana at Stepping Hill hospital during her two visits to the emergency department.
"To date, that review has identified that Lana received appropriate treatment and care in a timely fashion.
"While at Stepping Hill Hospital, Lana received all the care that could be provided by our own paediatric, intensive care, emergency department staff and the regional intensive care team.
"In spite of our interventions, Lana's health continued to deteriorate until her death at Alder Hey.
"We will extend an invitation to the family to meet with senior clinical staff to discuss the treatment provided to Lana and their obvious concerns."
The Department of Health insisted independent expert advice was "absolutely clear" that children who did not have risk factors should not be vaccinated. The advice had been reviewed recently and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) did not change its recommendation.
Mrs Ameen, 28, said: "Rather than just taking facts and figures, they need to start thinking about people's lives.
"It's not about whether they thought Lana should have been eligible. Obviously she was, because she died from it. I think all children should be vaccinated and anyone else who is prepared to pay for it."
She went on: "Losing Lana is just awful. It's just heartbreaking. We just look at different things in the house and see her clothes and toys, the programmes we used to watch, everything reminds me of her. It's like you can still see her there, it's like we're waiting for her to come in. I feel like perhaps we're just having a break and we're waiting for her to come back."
Tomorrow the department of health will give its weekly update on the number of people in the UK who have died from swine flu or are in critical care in hospital.
A DoH spokeswoman said: "The advice from independent experts has been absolutely clear.
"The flu vaccine should be used to protect children from six months upwards who are in at-risk groups and experts do not recommend the vaccination of children who do not have risk factors."