Children's cancer camp closes after kids have flu-like symptoms

03:22 PM CDT on Saturday, August 1, 2009

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS - A Louisiana camp for children with cancer, closed it's doors early this week, after nearly a dozen children got flu-like symptoms. One child is from Slidell and is now isolated and recovering in Children's Hospital.
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Caleb Petty, 9, is battling brain cancer.

"He was getting really bad headaches, you know, and he kept complaining about them and he was starting, his vision was starting to act up. And he said that he kept getting them so bad to where he started crying and he would go soak his head in hot water," said Caleb's father, Jason Thomas.

At such a young age, he misses playing with his friends outside. He's had to trade that in for chemotherapy treatments.

"It helps you," said Caleb, when asked what chemotherapy was like.

But Camp Challenge up in Leesville, La. was a chance to get away from hospital rooms and needles. It's a free week-long camp for children with cancer and blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

"He got to go down water slides which he hasn't been able to do because of his head and his brain surgeries. He got to mess with a hot air balloon. He got to interact with kids whose counts were as low as well as his was," said Carrie Thomas, Caleb's stepmother.

But only two days into camp some children, including Caleb, starting getting sick with fever.

"So at that point having had so many other kids that started with symptoms, we immediately closed the camp," said Dr. Jaime Morales, a pediatric oncologist, hematologist at LSU Health Sciences Center who practices at Children's Hospital.

Ten children came back to Children's Hospital and were admitted with symptoms of the flu. So far four have tested positive for Type-A Influenza. The Centers for Disease Control is now testing to see if it is the H1N1 or swine flu. Everyone is on the anti-viral medication Tamiflu.

"We are treating their contacts, everybody that was exposed at camp is being treated. All the children that don't have symptoms are also being treated and the parents of the kids that have the flu are also being treated," explained Dr. Morales.

One hundred and fifty children were there, many were patients along with their healthy siblings. There are nearly as many doctors, nurses and counselors there as children, and all of them are getting the anti-viral medication as well.

"The treatment that they are getting is appropriate for swine flu and for the regular influenza, so we are treating them and assuming as if it was the swine flu we are preventing already," adds Dr. Morales.

Dr. Morales goes to camp challenge with the children and he says chemo lowers the patients' immune systems, making them more susceptible to getting a worse case of the flu. But he says so far with medicine, the patients are doing well. But Caleb much rather be playing than isolated in a hospital room.

"I just want to go home," whined Caleb.

The lab results could be back next week. The doctor says it could be swine flu since seasonal flu is not usually seen this time of year.

For more on Caleb go to