BOISE — Two Idaho children have died of flu-related causes this season, one in eastern Idaho and one in northern Idaho, and the state Department of Health and Welfare is investigating reports that a third child, also from eastern Idaho, died from flu-related causes.
Until now two Idahoans both women over the age of 70 in northern Idaho, had died from the flu so far this flu season in what had been a slower start to the season locally than last year. One flu-related death had occurred among children in Idaho in the last five years, DHW said, making the recent deaths unusual.
”Our hearts go out to the families of these children," Dr. Christine Hahn, medical director for DHW's Division of Public Health, said in a statement. "This flu strain appears to be impacting some children in Idaho heavily, and we want to make sure that Idahoans are taking precautions to stay safe this flu season. Influenza illness has been increasing in Idaho and around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted they have seen more pediatric influenza deaths than usual by this time of year. If you or your children are sick with the flu, contact your medical provider; there are medications that can reduce the severity and duration of the illness."
On Sunday, Lily Clark, 13, of Idaho Falls, died from flu-related complications at Salt Lake City Primary Children's Hospital, having been rushed there from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. Hahn said Idaho has been in contact with Utah officials but declined to say whether Clark's death is one of the ones mentioned in DHW's news release, citing the need to avoid releasing identifying information about the children. Hahn said she expects to have more information on the third death next week.
While it is too soon to know if this flu season will be worse than previous ones, DHW officials said the CDC's data indicates it started earlier than usual and that influenza B strains, which may be impacting children more severely than adults, have been circulating more than influenza A.
"Usually (influenza B circulates) later in the season, and they don't know why that's changed this year," Hahn said. "Flu viruses are still not completely understood."
The Washington Post reported Friday that this year's vaccine doesn't match the predominant flu strains, since A is usually more common early in flu season. Five children died during the week ending Jan. 4 nationwide, and 32 have since the start of flu season. The South, the Post said, has been especially hard-hit.
DHW recommends everyone 6 months or older get a flu vaccine every year, and that people who are sick seek medical attention and stay home. DHW also recommends covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and washing your hands frequently.
Also, DHW said other vaccines will help prevent some bacterial respiratory infections such as whooping cough and pneumococcal pneumonia. These bacteria, DHW said, often circulate during flu season and can contribute to severe respiratory disease among children and people with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or weakened immune systems.
People at a higher risk for flu-related complications include adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, young children or children with certain neurological conditions, people with compromised immune systems from cancer or HIV and people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart disease or a history of stroke. Getting a flu vaccine is particularly important for these groups, DHW said. DHW said people should consult with a medical provider to determine which flu vaccine is right, depending on medical history and age.
To learn more about flu activity in Idaho, visit flu.idaho.gov.