Girl is 2nd child to die of flu in state this winter

Flu season is still going strong; vaccination is still available and advised, state health officials say.

Another child in Minnesota has died because of the flu, the second this winter.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health identified the child as a 5-year-old from the Twin Cities area. She received a flu shot only after she was already ill, health officials said.

Earlier this month, 12-year-old Jasmine Levy of Minneapolis died from complications of flu. She suffered from asthma but had not been vaccinated because she had no health insurance, a relative said at the time.

The deaths of the two girls do "not necessarily indicate that children are at higher risk this year for developing potentially fatal complications from influenza," said Kristen Ehresmann, head of immunizations for the Health Department. "We have no evidence that the flu strains in circulation this year are unusually virulent, or that they pose an unusual risk for children."

Vaccination, she said, is the best protection, and flu shots are still widely available from local public health agencies and clinics. This month a new federal recommendation expanded flu shots to all kids older than 6 months in an effort to protect both children and those who are at even greater risk from flu: infants, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses.

Though a break in the cold weather this week may give the false impression that the season is ending, it's still in full swing, she said. Last week, 20 schools reported flu outbreaks. The flu season typically lasts until the end of April.

Flu deaths among children and adults are most often related to either underlying health problems or a secondary infections. Levy had both. She had asthma and developed a staph infection. She died at home at night within a day or two of becoming infected, her relative said.

The 5-year-old had no underlying condition or secondary infection, Ehresmann said. And although that is less common, it is not rare. "You can die from the virus," she said.

Flu deaths among children occur infrequently, but some are reported every year. Last year six children in Minnesota died, and as of March 1 this year, 32 pediatric influenza-related deaths had been reported nationwide.

Although some of the flu strains circulating this year are not perfectly matched to the current vaccine, immunization is highly recommended. The vaccine is still likely to provide better protection against flu than no vaccine at all, she said.

Levy was infected with an A strain of the influenza virus. The child in the more recent case was infected with influenza B. No information is available at this point about how well the two strains matched this year's influenza vaccine, Ehresmann said.

Additional information about influenza -- and where to find a flu shot clinic -- is available at www.mdhflu.com.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

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