North Carolina sees first pediatric flu death of season

Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

A child has died from the flu in the western part of North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Thursday. 

The child is the first pediatric patient to die of the illness in the 2019-2020 flu season. 

"We extend our deepest sympathies to this child’s family," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore. “These personal losses are also a reminder for all of us that flu can be a serious illness. We want to encourage people to protect themselves and others by getting their annual flu shot.” 

Twenty adults in North Carolina have died from the flu this season, health officials said, and 14 of them were older than 65.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 27 children have died from the flu nationwide as of Jan. 4, 2020. 

The CDC estimates that between 12,000 and 79,000 people die from flu infections nationwide each year. Certain groups are at higher risk for serious illness from flu, including children younger than five, pregnant women, people over 65 and those with certain chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease.

However, over half of the children who die from flu have no known medical condition that would put them at higher risk.

“Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu,” Dr. Moore said. “There is still time to protect yourself and your loved ones this flu season.”

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Early treatment with an antiviral drug can also help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious, health officials said. Other precautions folks can take to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include: 

  • Staying home when you are sick until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours
  • Washing your hands frequently, preferably with soap and water 
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly