Pediatric flu death reported in King County

Public Health has learned that an elementary-school-aged child in King County has died from complications of influenza. The child was previously healthy and died on December 15th in a Pierce County hospital. This is the first reported flu death in a child in King County since the last reported pediatric death in 2009. There have also been three reported flu-related deaths in King County adults to date in the 2019/2020 flu season.

“Losing a child to influenza is heartbreaking and I want to extend our deep sympathy to the family,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. ”This death is a tragic reminder of how serious influenza can be, especially for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with long-term health conditions.

“I urge everyone to get an annual flu vaccine and to stay home when sick to help prevent the spread of illness to these more vulnerable groups,” said Duchin. “If you’re in a high risk group and develop influenza symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away – antiviral treatment can prevent serious complications.”  

Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. People who are sick with the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms; not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Update on the current flu season

King County, Washington state and many areas of the United States are seeing an unusually early start to the influenza season. The predominant strain currently circulating is an influenza B virus, which is particularly dangerous for young children.

Facts about influenza

  • Between 9 – 45 million people get flu every year in the U.S.
  • There are 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. from flu every year
  • Locally, there are thousands of flu-related hospitalizations and an estimated 70 to 500 deaths from flu in King County every year.
  • Flu deaths are under-reported to health officials because the listed causes of death are often complications of the flu, such as pneumonia or diabetes.
  • During the 2017-2018 flu season, 187 flu deaths in children were reported nationally, although mathematical models that account for the underreporting of flu-related deaths in children estimate the actual number was closer to 600.  Eighty percent of these deaths occurred in unvaccinated children.

People with flu can be contagious beginning one day before they develop symptoms and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick, and even longer in some cases. It’s important to stay away from others when you are sick, wash your hands often, and cover your cough to prevent spread of flu.

About the flu vaccine

Health officials recommend annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. Vaccination is especially important for people at increased risk of severe illness from flu, including:

“Even healthy adults should not underestimate the impact a flu infection,” said Duchin. “Influenza can make you miserably sick for a week or two, with fever, cough, weakness and body aches.  Getting vaccinated reduces flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, missed work and school days, as well as flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccination is safe, effective, and widely available at pharmacies, community health clinics, and most healthcare provider offices.”

For more information about flu: www.kingcounty.gov/influenza

For help finding a location for getting a flu shot: www.kingcounty.gov/findaclinic

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly listed the number of reported flu-deaths in King County adults to date in the 2019/2020 season. There have been three such reported deaths, not two.

Originally posted on December 18, 2019.

3 thoughts on “Pediatric flu death reported in King County

  1. Did this child have the vaccine? Was this child treated with Tamiflu and Tylenol? A death of any child is tragic, but it is irresponsible to report death without that information.

  2. Thank you for your message and your concern about our messaging about the importance of flu vaccine.

    Here is an explanation from our health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin: “In the sad case of this child, we did not discuss the vaccination status because we consider the child’s personal health information confidential because it could be linked to the this specific child and the family since some people in the community know the child’s identity.

    That said, we want people know that 80-90% of children who die from the flu have NOT been vaccinated.

    In outbreaks when we have more cases such as our recent mumps and measles outbreaks we do share with the public how many have been vaccinated and how many have not, because when there are multiple cases the information cannot be linked to specific individuals.

    I can also tell you that there was nothing unusual about this case that explained why the infection was so serious. Each year a few hundred children die from influenza, and some of those children are healthy. However, most cases of severe and complicated influenza occur in children and adults at increased risk, including those with underlying health conditions. For excellent information on the flu I encourage you to visit the CDC’s influenza website at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm

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