Public health experts are urging families to vaccinate their children against influenza following the death of an 18-month-old Toledo boy, one of two pediatric flu-related fatalities reported in Ohio on Wednesday.
“Any [child] death is one too many, especially if it is preventable. ... It’s an unfortunate event, but I think we need to learn from these events,” said Dr. Deepa Mukundan, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Toledo. “One thing we can do is learn more about prevention of the flu. The best way to prevent is vaccination.”
Lucas County health officials confirmed the 18-month-old boy died Monday. Family later identified the child as Nathaniel Downey of Toledo. He tested positive for influenza A, a strain which is more often associated with serious complications, Dr. Mukundan said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the influenza A H3N2 strain as the most common this year.
VIDEO: Dr. Deepa Mukundan
Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, sore throat, and cough.
“We do take it relatively lightly because many of us get the flu and recover and do fine, so we believe everyone will do the same,” Dr. Mukundan said.
But patients with health complications, such as children under 2, and those with asthma, diabetes, or other autoimmune diseases, are more susceptible to serious complications.
Lucas County health officials on Wednesday said they didn’t know if the child had been vaccinated or had any other medical conditions.
Pediatric flu vaccination rates are between 30 and 40 percent, Dr. Mukundan said, compared with 70 to 80 percent for other childhood vaccines. Barriers to getting children influenza vaccines include misinformation, a lack of transportation, and inconvenience, she said.
“It’s not 100 percent protective ... but it definitely decreases the risk of complications, it decreases the risk of bad outcomes,” she said.
Despite reports that this year’s vaccine is not a good match for current virus strains and therefore less effective, it’s still recommended by doctors and public health officials. It’s not too late in the season to get vaccinated, Dr. Mukundan said, but the vaccine does take two weeks to be effective.
The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get a flu shot. Children getting their first vaccine should get two doses scheduled one month apart. Dr. Mukundan recalled a rush in 2009 when the H1N1 virus made for a particularly nasty flu season.
“A lot of people got immunized because it really scared them and that disease caused a lot of complications,” she said. “But as it settles into your remote memory, the immunization rates have fallen.”
Child deaths from the flu are infrequent in Ohio and draw attention when they occur.
“It’s a hard subject to talk about, but it is one this community needs to hear,” Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said Wednesday when announcing the boy’s death. “It just goes back to the point of making sure our kids are vaccinated ... we’re vaccinated, [and] making sure we understand when somebody is sick we need to contact a doctor.”
This week’s pediatric influenza death was the first in Lucas County since influenza became a reportable disease in Ohio in 2005, according to the department.
In Fulton County, 7-year-old Ava Coronado died in February, 2017. She tested positive for influenza, but an underlying heart defect was the cause of death, according to the Lucas County Coroner’s Office. The most recent death in Wood County was a 2-year-old boy in 2011, according to the Wood County Health District.
Mr. Zgodzinski said Wednesday those with flu symptoms should practice frequent hand-washing, minimize contact with others until 24 hours after a fever subsides, and call the family doctor.
People are usually contagious a day before symptoms appear and five to seven days after symptoms are gone, Dr. Mukundan said.
Flu shots are also available at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, area pharmacies, and physician offices. Find a nearby location at cdc.gov/flu/freeresources/flu-finder-widget.html.
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