First child flu death of season reported in N.C.; child had not been vaccinated

(The following information is from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.)

RALEIGH, NC - North Carolina has reported its first child death from flu for the 2008-2009 flu season. A six-year-old child died Monday of complications from an influenza infection. (To protect the family's privacy, the child's hometown, county and sex are not being released.) The child had not received flu vaccine this season.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of this loss," said State Health Director Leah Devlin. "It is a devastating reminder that flu can be a serious and even deadly illness. We all need to do what we can to prevent the spread of flu in this state, and vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu.

"It is still not too late for people to get their flu shots," Devlin said. "Immunization helps prevent people from becoming ill and from spreading flu to others. Contact your doctor or your local health department for an appointment.

"And, if you do get sick, remember to stay home from work or school while you are sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and-most important-wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," Devlin said.

Flu activity has begun to increase in North Carolina, according to state public health officials. Health care providers across the state who participate in the state's Influenza Sentinel Surveillance Program have reported increases in flu-like illness over the past four weeks; flu is now widespread in North Carolina.

So far, it appears this will be an average flu season for the state. However, every year, at least one or two children die from flu in North Carolina. In the nation as a whole, flu accounts for 36,000 deaths of adults and children and 200,000 hospitalizations annually.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded its recommendations regarding flu vaccine. The CDC now advises all children from six months through 18 years of age be vaccinated against the flu. Vaccination is also recommended for any adults who want to protect themselves from the flu. Adults 50 and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions like asthma, household contacts of people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women, and healthcare workers are particularly encouraged to get vaccinated.

Flu symptoms begin suddenly and may include fever, severe headache, body aches, sore throat and cough. Flu can make a person more susceptible to pneumonia, which can be especially dangerous to people who already suffer from heart or lung disease.