A Minnesota child died last week from complications related to influenza, the first child death in the current flu season, the state Health Department reported Thursday.
While child deaths from influenza are not uncommon, it underscores what has been a rough flu season for children — with 447 outbreaks being reported in Minnesota schools so far.
B strains of the virus have been circulating unusually early this year and are known to spread more aggressively among children, said Karen Martin, an epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health. Now A strains are starting to circulate as well, prolonging a flu season that at one point appeared to have peaked.
“All regions of the state are getting hit hard with influenza right now,” Martin said.
State health officials provided no details about the child, saying it wouldn’t alter their public health message about the widespread nature of influenza across the state and the need for everyone to be vaccinated against the seasonal virus.
The state started specifically reporting pediatric flu deaths in 2013 and has reported at least one such death in every flu season since then. Ten children suffered influenza-related deaths in the 2014-2015 winter flu season.
“Children are at higher risk for complications of influenza,” Martin said, “so we do want to keep a closer eye on that group.”
The flu season’s disproportionate impact on children is also reflected in the 25 outbreaks reported so far this year in long-term care facilities — a relatively low number when compared with prior seasons.
The average age of patients hospitalized for influenza also is young this season, at 52.5. Martin said the average in most years is 70 or 80.