Days after a Guatemalan boy died in US custody on Christmas Eve, infectious disease experts say it appears Felipe Alonzo-Gomez likely had the flu, a potentially deadly illness that can often be treated if caught early enough.
US Customs and Border Protection issued a statement Tuesday saying the boy had “possible influenza symptoms” on Monday and was taken to a local hospital.
A detailed account of the child’s care released by the federal agency does not mention a flu test being administered to Felipe. CBP did not respond to a question from CNN about whether the boy received a flu test.
“This child’s death could have been prevented,” said Dr. Flor Muñoz, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Muñoz and another pediatric infectious disease expert contacted by CNN said they would have tested Felipe for the flu if he had been their patient, given that it’s flu season and he had symptoms of influenza.
“Flu can be a relatively mild illness, but it can also kill children very quickly,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Flu can be treated with antiviral medications, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors can also treat potentially deadly complications of the flu, such as dehydration and secondary bacterial infections.
On December 24 at 9:30 a.m., border patrol agents brought Felipe and his father to a hospital in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The boy, who is from Guatemala, had “possible influenza symptoms,” including coughing, according to CBP’s account.
While at the hospital, Felipe had a temperature of 103 degrees, according to the federal agency, which noted that he received a test for strep throat.
A spokeswoman for the hospital declined to answer questions about the child’s care.
The hospital discharged Felipe that afternoon after diagnosing him with a “common cold” and prescribing ibuprofen and amoxicillin, an antibiotic, according to the agency.
That night, Felipe vomited, and a few hours later a border patrol agent brought him and his father back to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center. During the ride, the boy began to vomit again and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 11:48 p.m.
New Mexico is experiencing regional flu activity, according to the CDC.
“We’re right in the middle of the flu season, and when a patient has respiratory symptoms and fever, we need to think of flu first,” Muñoz said.
In the 2017-2018 flu season, 185 children and teens died of the flu, according to the CDC.