The Massachusetts Department of Public Health today announced today the state’s first pediatric death associated with influenza.
The 6-year-old child was a resident of Suffolk County. Health officials did not release what community she resided in.
Health officials said the child, who died last weekend, suffered from a number of health problems that likely contributed to complications from the flu.
Individuals with chronic health conditions are at high risk of bad outcomes from influenza, and children often bear a significant burden from influenza disease.
“This is a tragic reminder of how serious the flu can be for some people,” said Dr. Susan Lett, Medical Director of DPH’s Immunization Program. “Fortunately, pediatric deaths resulting from influenza complications are rare in Massachusetts.”
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a federal panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccine issues, recently voted to expand the recommended ages for the annual influenza vaccination to include all children from six months through 18 years of age. The previous recommendation was to vaccinate children from six months through five years of age.
Last week, flu activity in Massachusetts dropped from widespread to regional activity and appears to have peaked in our state the week of February 17. However, flu activity remains high and is expected to circulate into April in this part of the country.
“While this year’s flu shot was not the best match for some of the flu strains circulating this year, that should not prevent people from getting vaccinated against the flu,” Dr. Lett said. “The vaccine usually offers some protection, even if it is not 100 percent effective - preventing against complications, particularly for people with high risk medical conditions.”
Health officials are reminding Massachusetts residents that steps can be taken to reduce the spread of influenza, including;
*Getting vaccinated. If you haven’t received a flu vaccination this year it is not too late to get one -- particularly for people at high risk of complications from the flu, including children and the elderly.
*Staying at home when sick to avoid spreading illness to co-workers or friends.
* Practicing good “cough etiquette” or coughing into your elbow or a tissue and not into your hands.
* Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also be used when water is not available.
For more information on influenza, or for a copy of the state's department of health's publication Flu: What you can do. Caring for people at home, visit www.mass.gov/dph/flu, or call 617-983- 6800.