It’s important to take preventive measures to ward off the seasonal flu.
A shadow of loss hangs over Virginia this holiday season, as the state’s Department of Health (VDH) announced the first reported influenza-associated pediatric death of the 2023-2024 season. The child, aged between 5 and 12, resided in the eastern region of the state, encompassing Hampton Roads. Details surrounding the tragedy remain private out of respect for the family’s privacy.
“We at the Virginia Department of Health are broken-hearted and extend our sympathies to the family of this child during this difficult time,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton said in a statement. “Even though the flu is common, it can cause serious illness and even death. I urge everyone who is eligible to receive the flu vaccine to do so not only to protect themselves but to protect those around them.”
While Virginia’s current flu season falls within the expected range of severity, even “typical” seasons can fluctuate significantly, resulting in widespread illness, hospitalizations, and, as this tragic case underscores, fatalities. Last year, Virginia witnessed five influenza-associated deaths among children, according to news reports.
Vaccination rates, unfortunately, paint a concerning picture. Only 27% of eligible Virginians have received the flu vaccine so far this season, highlighting the urgent need for increased immunizations. A recent study revealed the vaccine’s effectiveness, demonstrating a nearly 50% reduction in flu-related emergency department and urgent care visits and over a 33% decrease in hospitalizations among U.S. adults during the 2022-23 season.
In the face of rising flu activity, VDH reiterates its three-pronged approach to prevention:
- Vaccination: Everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually, consulting their healthcare provider if necessary, to prevent pediatric cases. Vaccination is the first line of defense against the flu and protects not only yourself but also those around you, especially vulnerable populations like young children and older adults.
- Preventive Hygiene: Practice good hand hygiene by washing regularly or using an alcohol-based sanitizer, observe proper respiratory etiquette (coughing/sneezing into a tissue or your elbow), and stay home when feeling unwell.
- Early Healthcare Intervention: If you fall ill, seek medical attention promptly. Antiviral medications prescribed by a healthcare professional can be a valuable treatment option for some patients and help mitigate severe complications.
VDH reports a notable surge in flu-like illness visits to emergency departments and urgent care facilities across the state, with the week ending December 23rd witnessing a concerning 6.9% of total visits attributed to influenza symptoms. This rise is particularly evident among young children and school-aged children, with these age groups accounting for 14.7% and 13.2% of visits, respectively.
With winter’s peak yet to arrive, Virginia residents must prioritize flu prevention measures, especially for pediatric cases. Getting vaccinated remains the most effective defense against the virus, and practicing good hygiene habits further bolsters protection. This tragic loss serves as a stark reminder of the potential severity of influenza and a call to collectively work towards increasing vaccination rates and safeguarding public health as winter unfolds.
To locate a seasonal flu vaccine in the state of Virginia, visit Vaccinate Virginia or contact any local health department.