OWATONNA — An Owatonna High School senior has died after exhibiting what her family has characterized as “flu-like symptoms.”
Shannon Zwanziger, 17, died Tuesday after being flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Her father, Terry Zwanziger, said that Shannon had come home from school sick last Wednesday, Dec. 3, and stayed home from school on both Thursday and Friday.
When her condition did not improve over the weekend, her parents took her to the Same Day Clinic at Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna on Sunday, her father said.
“They told her it was the typical flu and it would just have to run its course,” he said.
Shannon’s condition worsened, and on Tuesday morning, her heart stopped. Shannon’s mother, Gwen Zwanziger, attempted to administer CPR until the paramedics arrived, Shannon’s father said, at which point the paramedics continued the procedures while driving her to the Owatonna Hospital where she was flown to Rochester.
“They were doing CPR for about six hours,” Terry Zwanziger said.
Information posted on the youcaring.com website by friends of the Zwanziger family gives additional information.
“Shannon had the flu for about a week and a severe sore throat to boot,” the post says. “Her mom and dad had taken her to the hospital thinking it was strep, but it wasn’t. She had not been eating or drinking anything. This morning [Tuesday] her sister got a call from her dad saying that she had stopped breathing and her heart had stopped. Paramedics revived her and she was transported to a hospital where they attempted surgery. Tragically, Shannon did not make it and left this world to be with Jesus and her grieving loved ones behind.”
Although Shannon was exhibiting flu-like symptoms, an actual determination that she had the flu has not yet been made. Terry Zwanziger said that the family was told that a “full gamut of tests” had to be run and that results may not be available for eight to 12 weeks.
Zwanziger was one of more than 100 OHS students absent on Thursday and Friday last week because of flu-like symptoms,
Earlier this week, OHS Principal Mark Randall said 139 students were reported ill on Thursday, 179 students were reported ill on Friday and 142 were reported ill on Monday.
Randall said those numbers are at least double the amount of illnesses last year at this time.
And Owatonna isn’t alone.
Randall said Wednesday that the school is still seeing greater absentee numbers this year compared to years past, but they are declining.
“They’re a little bit higher, but not at or near where we were last Friday,” he said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, eight new influenza outbreaks — 5 percent of total enrollment or three or more students with flu-like symptoms — occurred within schools across the state during the week of Nov. 24 to 29 and more have occurred since.
That week the Department of Health also reported the state’s first flu-related child death and 87 hospitalizations.
And although that data doesn’t include the first two weeks in December, Doug Schultz, a spokesperson with the Minnesota Department of Health, said there continues to be a “high level of influenza activity in southern Minnesota.”
“Southern and southeastern Minnesota, according to preliminary data, shows that this week influenza activity has increased,” Schultz said.
In a letter sent to parents of OHS students on Wednesday afternoon, Randall reminds the parents that the cause of Zwanziger’s death has not been confirmed and that the school is taking necessary precautions to insure the health and safety of its students.
“Although we will not speculate on the cause of death, we do know that we have seen an increase in influenza-like symptoms this past week, as was communicated to parents on Thursday, December 4,” Randall wrote. “We continue to follow the Department of Health protocols based on the volume of illnesses even though it appears they are stabilizing to a lower count at this present time.”
Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information stating the predominant circulating influenza viruses have “drifted” from the vaccine strain, and in the past, this has meant decreased vaccine effectiveness.
“It’s reasonable to assume the drifted strain has arrived in Minnesota,” Schultz said. “With it, we tend to see more illness and more severe cases.”
The CDC said in the past with this predominant virus strain, H3N2, it’s seen more hospitalizations and deaths among seniors, young children and individuals with chronic medical conditions compared to H1N1 or influenza B viruses.
The Department of Health says everyone is at risk of getting influenza, but those most at risk for becoming “seriously ill” from the flu include people 65 years old and older, young children, pregnant women, people with certain health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease as well as African Americans, Hispanics and Native American peoples.
Schultz said everyone is encouraged to get the flu vaccine this year.
“The influenza vaccine may not provide complete protection, but it can provide protection for three or four strains of the influenza virus,” he said. “It’s the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”
Terry Zwanziger, father of Shannon Zwanziger, said his daughter had not had a flu shot this year.
Schultz also said it’s important that people wash their hands, cover their cough and stay home when they’re ill.
In his letter to OHS parents, Randall emphasized those same points.
“If your child has a fever of 100 degrees or higher, and a cough or sore throat, please keep your child home from school for 24 hours after the temperature returns to normal without fever-reducing medications,” Randall wrote. “Please check your student’s temperature in the morning or prior to their return to school in order to minimize transmission of illness.
“Additionally, we have increased the cleaning and sanitizing of our entire building and will continue to do so until we are back to typical levels of absences at OHS. We are also encouraging all students and staff to utilize hand sanitizers located in each classroom and to wash frequently. We will continue to monitor the situation and work with the Department of Health to provide students and staff with the best care possible.”
Influenza season usually runs from October to early May, and Schultz said “it’s hard to tell” how this year will be.
“The flu is very unpredictable and you really don’t know when you’ll see death, but when you have increased influenza activity, you’re going to have more hospitalizations and the possibility of death,” he said. “We don’t know when the peak will take place, but it’s ramping up in Minnesota. Every year is different.”
For more information about flu vaccinations in Steele County, call Steele County Public Health at 444-7650.
Reach Managing Editor Jeffrey Jackson at 444-2371, or follow him on Twitter.com @OPPJeffrey