Officials: Child dies from flu in U.P.

ESCANABA — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) confirmed the first influenza-associated pediatric death of the 2017-18 flu season Wednesday. The death was a child from the Upper Peninsula.

According to MDHHS, 53 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide for the season as of Jan. 27. The death announced Wednesday was not included in that total.

“We know this can happen. In this instance, it happened to a child in the U.P., but we see (deaths) every year,” said Dr. Terry Frankovich, medical director at Public Health Delta Menominee Counties, who called the death “a tragedy.”

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains statistics on pediatric deaths from the seasonal flu, the 54 confirmed deaths are only part of the story. Adult deaths are difficult to track, as states are not required to report or track individual seasonal flu cases or deaths of people older than 18 years of age to the CDC. In addition, influenza is infrequently listed as a cause of death on death certificates when individuals die of flu-related complications, deaths from secondary infections, or chronic illnesses aggravated by the flu occur sometimes weeks after people have had the flu, and many people who die are simply never tested for the flu.

“We don’t track adult deaths per se nationally, but we do know that healthy adults die from flu,” said Frankovich.

Elevated flu activity has been seen across the country over the past few weeks, with some of the highest hospitalization rates ever recorded according to the CDC. More than three quarters of the positive influenza specimens confirmed by MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories this flu season have been an H3N2 virus, a subtype of Influenza A, which can cause severe flu infections in children, as well as in young- and middle-aged adults.

According to Frankovich, the best prevention for the flu is to get vaccinated. Because the vaccine does not contain a live virus, it is acceptable for almost everyone, including people who are immunocompromised or have other underlying health problems, children, seniors, and pregnant women — all of whom are especially susceptible to flu-related complications.

Only children under the age of six months are unable to get the vaccine. The MDHHS recommends that people who are around children under six months of age — including parents, healthcare providers, siblings, and grandparents — be vaccinated. This creates what is known as “herd immunity,” which protects the young child by limiting their exposure to people who are carrying the flu virus.

“There’s really no downside to vaccinating,” said Frankovich.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, only 44.2 percent of Michigan residents were vaccinated against flu, according to MDHHS, putting Michigan in 33rd place in the country. A total of five influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported in Michigan that season.

While it may take up to two weeks for the body to develop an immunity to the flu virus after being vaccinated, Frankovich urges anyone who has not received a vaccination yet this season to get one, as the season typically does not end until May.

“Some private providers don’t still have vaccines on hand, but the health departments all do,” said Frankovich.

Anyone who is in need of a flu vaccination may call Public Health Delta Menominee Counties at either of its two locations. Delta County residents can call 786-4111 and Menominee County residents can call 863-4451.

Individuals outside of Delta and Menominee counties can find a vaccine provider online at flushot.healthmap.org.

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