CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), Bureau for Public Health has confirmed West Virginia’s first influenza-associated pediatric death for the 2022-23 flu season.
To protect the family’s privacy, no details of the death will be released including the child’s name, hometown, county, age and gender.
“The loss of a child is profound,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, acting State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “While most individuals recover from the flu, it can be a serious and life-threatening illness in both children and adults, especially those with existing health conditions and compromised immunity. We extend our deepest sympathies to this family.”
Those who are very susceptible to flu and its complications include children under the age of five years old, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma, etc.). Infants under six months of age cannot receive the influenza vaccine. The best way to protect them is to have everyone who will have contact with the infant receive a flu vaccine, and also limit an infant’s exposure to large groups of individuals.
“Now is the ideal time to get your flu shot, as West Virginia is experiencing a historically early start to the flu season. The flu vaccine is the first line of defense to protect yourself, and people around you who are vulnerable to the serious effects of the flu. We urge all West Virginians 6 months of age and older to get vaccinated against the flu,” said Shannon McBee, State Epidemiologist.
People who think they might have the flu should contact their doctor immediately to see if they need treatment with a prescription antiviral drug which can help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Treatment with an antiviral drug is especially important for hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
Other precautions people can take to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include:
- Staying home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly
- Washing hands frequently, preferably with soap and water
“For the past two consecutive years, flu vaccine rates in West Virginia have been lower than they were before the pandemic,” added McBee. “Despite seeing more flu cases in our state and the nation, we are concerned about the lack of an uptick in vaccine rates. Additionally, RSV and COVID cases continue to circulate which could further overwhelm our hospital system.”
While adult flu deaths are not a reportable condition in West Virginia, influenza-associated deaths of children under the age of 18 are required to be reported to the local health department within one week which in turn is reportable to the DHHR.
A total of five influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide during the 2022-23 influenza season according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.