A fourth pediatric death linked to seasonal influenza was confirmed Thursday in the Minnesota Department of Health’s latest update of statewide flu activity.
While the number is “tragic” and two more than the pediatric deaths reported in all of the last flu season, state health spokesman Doug Schultz said it doesn’t suggest a need for panic.
“While any death of a child is cause for concern and is certainly tragic for the families involved, from a public health perspective, we are not seeing anything in these four deaths that is unexpected during severe influenza or that would cause us to change our recommendations on prevention, treatment or response,” he said.
The flu season has been harsher, though, in part because one of the circulating A strains of the virus is poorly matched to this season’s vaccine and also known historically to cause more severe flu seasons than other strains. That combined with widespread cases of norovirus prompted the health department to remind Minnesotans to protect others by staying home from work or school when they have flu-like symptoms.
“This year we seem to be getting hit harder than normal by influenza and norovirus,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner. “We know that some of this activity can be reduced if people stay home when they are feeling ill. It may not always be convenient, but it is an important step in reducing the spread of these diseases.”
School reports of influenza-like illness reached peak levels in Minnesota before the holiday break, but the new flu activity data for the week ending Jan. 3 offered mixed signals about the severity of the season.
The 33 hospitalizations last week represented a decline compared with the prior two weeks.
On the other hand, sentinel clinics around the state were finding a higher share of patients — 6.5 percent compared with 4.2 percent a week earlier — with flu-like symptoms.
Citing privacy concerns, the department declined to identify the pediatric victims by age range, vaccination status, or the presence of chronic or other diseases that are known to complicate flu infections.