Stanislaus County health officials reported Wednesday that a child has died from influenza and that the predominant flu strain this winter is more of a threat to children.
The county Health Services Agency said the child was otherwise healthy before coming down with flu symptoms. The child’s age and city of residence were not released out of respect for the family’s privacy. The agency said the tragic and unexpected death occurred within the last two weeks.
“This is a very sad reminder that flu is unpredictable and can be deadly,” said Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, public health officer for Stanislaus County. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the child’s family and hope we can help people understand that flu is a serious illness.”
Vaishampayan said the child was infected with the H1N1 flu strain. She added that vaccination is the most effective way available of protecting against the seasonal flu.
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“We know that H1N1 does tend to affect children more than adults,” Vaishampayan said. “It is important for your child to be vaccinated.”
The seasonal flu is widespread this month and is expected to make Northern San Joaquin Valley residents sick over the next few months, according to a state Department of Public Health surveillance program.
The state and nation was slammed a year ago by one of the worst-ever flu seasons, flooding hospitals with patients and resulting in 80,000 deaths across the country. The predominate viral strain last year, H3N2, is particularly harsh in older people.
This year’s season is not nearly as severe, with hospitalizations at normal levels. Children are more susceptible to the dominant strain spreading this winter. The H1N1 virus emerged with the 2009-10 pandemic and became part of the mix of flu strains that circulate each year.
The H1N1 virus is a strain covered by this year’s vaccine, Vaishampayan said. A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months or older, except for those with severe allergies to the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The shots are available from pharmacies, primary care physicians, health clinics and community events.
For patients who are sick and more vulnerable to serious complications, doctors may prescribe an antiviral drug that can shorten or reduce the severity of the illness. The drug needs to be taken early in the illness.
People can also take simple precautions to keep from spreading or catching the illness, such as washing hands, covering coughs, not touching your eyes or nose, avoiding contact with sick people and disinfecting surfaces at home.
More information is available at the Stanislaus County public health flu website at http://www.hsahealth.org/pages/flu.shtm.