The Massachusetts Department of Public Health today confirmed the state’s fourth pediatric death associated with influenza. A 12 year-old girl from Webster in Worcester County died on March 16 from complications of influenza.
Health officials also confirmed that a 15-year old boy from Newton died March 14 from influenza-related pneumonia. Families in Newton were notified about the death late Friday afternoon via an e-mail message from school officials.
Health officials last week announced the state’s first confirmed pediatric death associated with flu involving a six year-old child from Suffolk County. The child, who died March 2, suffered from a number of health problems that likely contributed to complications from the flu. The second case, which was recently reported to the state's health department, involved a 14-year old child from Middlesex County who died on March 1. This child also had 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 has been a very difficult flu season for the residents of Massachusetts,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the Department of Public Health's Director of Communicable Disease Control. “While flu-related deaths of children are rare, tragically they do occur. These deaths are a reminder that flu is a serious illness that can result in severe consequences for children, particularly those with underlying medical problems.”
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 age 5.
This year’s flu shot was not the best match for some of the flu strains circulating this year, however, health officials say that problems with the vaccine this season should not prevent people from getting vaccinated against the flu in the future. The vaccine usually offers some protection, even if it is not 100 percent effective. The shot can also be helpful in preventing serious complications from the flu, particularly for people with high-risk medical conditions.
Flu activity in Massachusetts continues to drop from widespread to regional activity and appears to have peaked in our state the week of February 17.
However, reports of flu activity remain high and are expected to circulate into April in this part of the country.
Health officials are reminding Massachusetts residents that steps can be taken to reduce the spread of influenza, including:
* Getting vaccinated. If you want to prevent the flu, a flu shot is still the best protection against getting the illness. You can still get a flu shot, even though the influenza season seems to be winding down in Massachusetts. Although this year's influenza vaccine was not as effective as health officials hoped, immunization is the best protection against getting the flu. Next year's vaccine will protect against three new strains of flu based on this year's flu viruses.
* 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 publication Flu: What you can do. Caring for people at home, visit www.mass.gov/dph, or call 617-983- 6800.