Virginia health officials announced Thursday the first pediatric death associated with the flu this season, raising alarms about the danger of influenza and other respiratory illnesses impacting children.
Virginia Child First Flu Fatality This Season
The Virginia Department of Health said the school-aged child died from flu complications earlier this week, marking the state’s first pediatric flu death for the 2023-2024 season. No further details were provided about the child due to privacy reasons.
“I was deeply saddened to learn that a school-age child has died due to complications from influenza,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, MD, MPH. “Unfortunately, this serves as a stark reminder that flu can be a very serious illness. We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of this child.”
This tragic news comes as influenza activity continues to rise across Virginia and the nation, with the CDC reporting high levels of flu transmission. Hospitalizations due to influenza have spiked sharply since November in the state.
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Officials urge parents to vaccinate themselves and children age 6 months and older against influenza, saying it is the most effective way to prevent illness, hospitalization, and death. Health experts also advise practicing good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding others when sick, and frequently cleaning surfaces.
Respiratory Viruses Widespread in Louisiana Too
Virginia is not alone in seeing an early surge in flu and other respiratory illnesses impacting kids this season. Neighboring state Louisiana reported its first pediatric flu death last week and continues to experience very high levels of influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 based on CDC data.
“It’s important for everyone to understand that in addition to coronaviruses, a wide range of seasonal respiratory viruses circulate each year and can make you sick. These include influenza (flu), Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, enteroviruses, human metapneumovirus and parainfluenza viruses,” noted Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter.
With so many viruses in circulation, health systems have been stressed treating high numbers of sick patients, including children. Ochsner Health in Louisiana said its pediatric hospitals and ERs have been operating at or above capacity for weeks amidst the triple threat of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 all impacting kids.
Preparing for What Comes Next
The death of a school-aged child in Virginia is raising concerns that the peak of flu season has yet to come as students return to school after the holidays. Health experts say influenza cases will likely rise more in January and February before tapering off in late spring.
In addition to urging families to get vaccinated, Virginia’s health department is advising schools to increase cleaning of buses and buildings and to adopt flexible sick leave policies so that ill staff and students remain home.
Officials warn that healthy habits like washing hands frequently, covering coughs, avoiding large gatherings when sick, and improved ventilation can reduce the spread of influenza and other respiratory illnesses impacting communities right now.
They also advise residents to call a health care provider if experiencing severe flu symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness or confusion. Seeking prompt antiviral treatment for those at high risk of complications can help mitigate severity and save lives.
While this first child death is devastating, ongoing precautions and increased awareness of flu risk could prevent further pediatric fatalities in Virginia this season. However, officials caution that some deaths may still occur despite best efforts due to the unpredictable nature of influenza.
This is a developing story. Check for updates on the spread of influenza and other respiratory illnesses threatening the health of children and adults this season.
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