One West Virginia child has died of the flu, marking it the first pediatric flu-related death in the state since the 2017/2018 season. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health confirmed the incident Tuesday. To protect the family’s privacy, no details of the death were released.
“I want to extend the deepest sympathy for the child’s family,” said Shannon McBee is the outbreak epidemiologist for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. “If anything positive can come from such a tragic loss, we hope that people will understand that flu is a serious illness.”
McBee advised that all West Virginians six months of age and older are advised to get vaccinated against the flu. Those who are very susceptible to the virus and its complications include children under the age of five years old, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions. Infants under six months cannot get a flu vaccine. “So the best way to protect those young children is to have everyone who comes in contact with that infant receive a flu vaccine and to also limit the infant’s exposure to large groups of individuals,” McBee said.
If symptoms include trouble breathing or a high fever that doesn’t go down with medication, health officials advise to seek medical attention immediately. Some patients may benefit from a prescription antiviral drug, which can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious.
Other precautions people can take to protect against the spread of the flu and other viruses include: staying home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and washing hands frequently.
A total of 78 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide during the 2019-20 influenza season.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.