Doctors from Harvard and Johns Hopkins wrote to Congress on Thursday after autopsy reports on three of six migrant children who died in U.S. custody died in part as a result of having the flu. The children were ages 2, 6 and 16.
Five Guatemalan children who had been taken into Border Patrol custody died between December and May. A sixth child, a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with a history of heart problems, died in September 2018 after a long illness, the Washington Post reported.
Child flu deaths are rare, the doctors said and should be preventable, according to The Washington Post.
The doctors also begged Congress to investigate the deaths because of “poor conditions” at U.S. facilities on the southern border that could contribute to more preventable deaths as well as the spread of deadly infections.
“Poor conditions at the facilities may be amplifying the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases, increasing health risks to children,” according to the letter, submitted by Harvard pediatrics professor Jonathan Winickoff; Johns Hopkins public health professors Joshua Sharfstein and Paul Spiegel and two of their master’s students; and San Francisco forensic pathologist Judy Melinek. “With so many lives at risk, these issues are worthy of a congressional investigation. Another influenza season is around the corner, and there are other types of infectious diseases that pose a threat to detained populations. Timely action is critical.”
The Harvard doctors also boldly accused the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services of likely not following best practices during screening, treatment, isolation, and prevention of the flu.
Deaths and the spread of disease and sickness have greatly increased as children and adults spend days, weeks and months at detention centers or tent camps that are not meant to house people for the longterm.
People are tightly packed into cages, often without the ability to bathe or lay down, let alone on a bed.
Before this spate of recent deaths, it had been 10 years since a child died in Border Patrol custody, officials have said.