Action News Jax Investigates: Underlying chronic illness sparked by the flu

The hidden danger the flu could expose.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville girl went to the emergency room with the flu, but was diagnosed with something far more serious.

The flu kick-started a hidden illness, and it can happen to both children and adults.

“My legs were shaky and I felt small, like I felt like I was getting smaller," said 7-year-old Lena.

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Lena was recovering from the flu and seemed to be getting better, but one morning before school, she was anxious and then fainted.

Her parents Courtney and Michael Bailey called 911 and doctors would deliver a shocking diagnosis.

"'Your daughter has diabetes.' We looked at each other looked back at him. He says, ‘The normal blood sugar is around 100, your daughter is over 700 right now,’” Michael Bailey said.

Lena spent a week in the hospital, as doctors brought her dangerously high blood sugar levels back to normal.

The first grader’s battle with the flu uncovered an underlying illness she'll now battle for the rest of her life.

"The flu is a huge stress on the body,” said Dr. Ranjit Shenoy, a pedatric endocrinologist at Nemours. “If somebody has underlying chronic illness either diagnosed or undiagnosed, the stress of the flu can exacerbate the symptoms and lead to the earlier diagnosis of the condition.”

“So essentially the flu kick-started her type one diabetes?” Kelton asked.

“Essentially, yeah," Shenoy said.

It can happen in both children and adults. Your body is working so hard to fight the flu that a hidden illness takes over, and it's not just diabetes -- it can be chronic issues like heart and lung disease.

Lena's parents thought her severe thirst, hunger and weight loss were symptoms of the flu. Doctors told them her Type 1 diabetes is probably something she's had for a while.

"Her immune system was working so hard to fight the flu that it turned and attacked her pancreas also," Courtney Bailey said.

Today, Lena, is a smiling happy first-grader. Her family has learned how to manage her diabetes.

"We have to wipe my finger with an alcohol wipe and we poke my finger … and it shows a number," Lena said.

They want other parents to know how one illness can expose another, and when it comes to your child, trust your gut and don’t wait to get help.