The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) Thursday (Jan. 23) confirmed the first influenza-associated pediatric death of this flu season in the state. The child was a teenager, lived in Worcester County and tested positive for influenza B.
Last flu season, there were four confirmed pediatric (individuals under the age of 18) flu-related deaths in Massachusetts. As of Jan. 11, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported a total of 39 influenza-associated pediatric deaths this flu season nationwide.
DPH continues to urge people who have not received a flu shot to get vaccinated. There is no shortage of vaccine. People who think they may have the flu should call their healthcare provider for guidance and possible treatment. This is particularly important for people with pre-existing health conditions that may make them more susceptible to serious illness when they get the flu.
“I feel immense sorrow for the family of this child. This is a tragic reminder of how serious the flu can be for both children and adults,’’ said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “Every flu season is different, but January and February are typically the height of flu season. We want people to know that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.”
This season, between 2,000-3,000 Massachusetts residents have been hospitalized with the flu, and there have been 15,000 – 20,000 emergency room visits. DPH tracks flu severity in its weekly flu report published each Friday.
“Flu vaccination is our best protection against illness,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Medical Director, Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. “People also should remember to wash their hands, cover their cough and sneeze, and stay home when they are sick to limit the spread of disease.”
The most common symptoms of flu are fever, cough, and sore throat. Symptoms can also include body aches, headache, chills, runny nose, and feeling very tired. Some people, especially young children, may also have diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms last from a few days to up to a week or more.
To stop flu from spreading, DPH recommends that people:
• Contact their healthcare provider if they think they have the flu, especially if they have health concerns that make them more likely to develop severe illness when sick with the flu. The provider may prescribe antiviral medications, which work best when started early in the illness. If symptoms do not improve or worsen rapidly, they should seek medical attention immediately.
• Get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccine is still available, and there is likely to be flu activity for many more weeks.
• Stay home when they are sick with fever and cough or a sore throat, if possible. People should stay at home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone, without the use of fever-reducing medications.
• Wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, or use hand sanitizer.
• Cover their coughs and sneezes.
The flu virus is spread through droplets of saliva and mucus from the nose and mouth. If you are close enough to a person with the flu (3-to-6 feet) when they cough or sneeze, you can breathe in the virus and get sick. The flu virus can also live for a short time on things you touch, such as doorknobs, phones, and toys. Adults with flu can spread the virus one day before symptoms appear to approximately one week after. Children can spread the flu even longer after they get sick.
For more information about influenza, visit www.mass.gov/flu
For questions, call your local board of health, your healthcare provider, or DPH at (617) 983-6800.