MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Department of Health Services and the City of Milwaukee Health Department have confirmed that a child in the city of Milwaukee has died from complications related to influenza. The death is the first pediatric flu death statewide for the 2014-2015 flu season -- and the first pediatric death from the flu in Milwaukee since 2009.
“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. I can have no words to replace the death of a child,” said Commissioner of Health Bevan K. Baker.
Viruses can easily spread among people gathered in warm places to escape the cold.
Influenza-related hospitalizations continue to increase, with more than 360 reported in the city of Milwaukee alone. The majority of hospitalizations reported have been in individuals age 50 and older. Additionally, across the country, at least 21 children have died as a result of the flu.
“Flu can be a serious illness. We're seeing nearly a doubling on hospitalizations both here in the city and across the state. We knew that there was a possibility that we could experience a pediatric death. We urge all area residents to take steps to reduce the spread of flu in our community and protect those who are most vulnerable," Baker said.
Not much is known about the child who died. It is unclear whether the child had been vaccinated against the flu, whether the child had a chronic disease or whether the child was immuno-suppressed.
"Those are things we'll find in time, but we don't have that data," Baker said.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. The flu vaccine helps prevent complications that can be caused by the flu, such as pneumonia or hospitalization. With few exceptions, officials recommend that individuals aged six months and older be immunized.
"The best case scenario here is to seek the vaccine while it's plentiful and available because it will lessen the severity of the disease if you should come in contact with influenza and it may actually save a life," Baker said.
- 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, especially for those with persistent or severe symptoms.
- 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 also help prevent the spread.
- Play it safe: Stay home when sick. If experiencing symptoms of seasonal flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, and fatigue, stay home from work or school, get rest, and drink plenty fluids. If you are at risk for complications, or symptoms persist or worsen, contact your health care provider.
Health officials also suggest these important steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with your upper sleeve, and try to avoid touching your face with your hand. If you use a tissue, throw it away after one use.
- Use your own drinking cups and straws.
- Avoid being exposed to people who are sick with flu-like symptoms.
- Eat nutritious meals, get plenty of rest and do not smoke.
- Frequently clean commonly touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, refrigerator handle, telephone, faucets).
"You will know if this is something different if they have the symptoms: fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat and they're not getting better with standard over-the-counter medication," Baker said.
Nationwide, nearly 24,000 people die every year from the flu, and for the last several years, about 100 of those deaths have involved children.
Flu vaccine remains available through local health care providers and retail pharmacies, though area residents are advised to call ahead to determine availability. Individuals looking for a location to receive vaccine near their home can use the flu vaccine finder at milwaukee.gov/health.