MILWAUKEE -- Officials with the City of Milwaukee Health Department on Tuesday, March 7th confirmed the influenza-associated death of a child residing in Milwaukee.
The death is the first pediatric flu death reported to the MHD for the 2016-2017 flu season. Nationwide, 40 pediatric flu deaths have been reported for the current season according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials said this tragic loss is a reminder of how serious the flu can be.
"It's a seasonal epidemic, as we like to say," said Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control and prevention at the Milwaukee Health Department.
It's an epidemic that impacts millions of people each year, and it has claimed the life of a child in Milwaukee.
"We're here to remind the community that the flu is a very serious infection," said Biedrzycki.
Little is known about the child who died. Officials would only say this case does not involve an infant or toddler. The most vulnerable to the flu are the elderly, pregnant women and young children.
"Right now, we are recording in the City of Milwaukee, majority of hospitalizations are elderly -- 278 in the city, 395 in the county," said Biedrzycki.
The 2016-17 flu season is expected to push through April.
Health experts said the primary defense against the influenza is a flu shot. This year's shot has been proven just above 50 percent effective.
"That's pretty good. People say 'well that's only half,' but when you think about all the millions and millions of people that are exposed to influenza, if we can prevent half of those -- that to me is pretty great," said Dr. Laura Marusinec with Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
For the people who get this vaccine and it does not work, medical experts add that their flu symptoms will be much more milder than had they gone without it.
Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker said in a statement:
"We are deeply saddened to learn that a child has died of complications related to the seasonal flu, and our thoughts remain with the child’s family."
To protect yourself and those around you, health officials recommend taking steps to:
- Protect yourself: Get vaccinated and take antiviral medications as prescribed by your doctor. Flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals over 6 months of age, and can help prevent the flu or reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get sick. Antiviral medications can reduce the severity and duration of illness in individuals at risk for complications associated with the flu.
- Prevent the spread: Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow, and wash your hands frequently. The flu virus is spread through the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, can help prevent the spread.
- Play it safe: Stay home if you are sick. If experiencing symptoms of seasonal flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, and fatigue, stay home from work or school, get rest, and drink plenty of fluids. If you are at-risk for complications or your symptoms persist or worsen, contact your health care provider.
The flu vaccine remains available through local health care providers and retail pharmacies. Individuals looking for a location to receive the vaccine near their home can use the flu vaccine finder at Milwaukee.gov/health.