Arizona’s most populated county reported its first pediatric flu death of the season, demonstrating that while an early and severe wave of flu is on the decline, it is not over.
The Maricopa County death is the third pediatric flu death in Arizona for the 2022-2023 flu season, which began in October, state health officials confirmed Tuesday. The other two pediatric flu deaths were in Pinal and Cochise counties.
The death is a “tragic reminder” that anyone who is able to get the flu shot should, not only to protect themselves, but to protect those around them who are at the highest risk for severe disease and death, said Dr. Nick Staab, a medical epidemiologist at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
Babies under the age of six months of age are too young to receive the flu vaccine, which makes them more vulnerable to severe illness and death if they are infected, public health officials say.
County health officials would not disclose the age of the child who died, nor say whether the child was younger than six months old, but they did say the child had not been vaccinated against the flu. The county also would not disclose the date of the child’s death.
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“This incredibly sad case reminds us that even though the flu is common, it can cause serious illness and even death,” Staab said. “If you have individuals in your home, or if you are around individuals who can’t be immunized, whether they are under six months or have some other reason, that’s all the more reason for you to be immunized so that you can help protect them.”
Arizona experienced a second late spike of flu last season, Staab said, so county public health officials advise continued prevention efforts, including getting a flu shot if you haven’t already. It typically takes two weeks for the flu shot to become effective following immunization.
Another reason to stay up-to-date with flu shots, county health officials say, is the number of large events in Arizona, including the Super Bowl. The county health department has a list of upcoming flu shot events at Maricopa.gov/flu.
“Before you attend large events, get vaccinated. And if you are sick, don’t go to large events. Stay home,” Staab said. “Even though we’re seeing a decrease in current, the transmission is still widespread. And it’s not too late to get that flu vaccine.”
Nationally, as of the week ending Jan. 14, there had been 85 pediatric flu deaths, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu surveillance data shows, compared with 45 in the 2021-2022 flu season and just one in the 2020-2021 season when many Americans were practicing shelter-in- place and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arizona had a total of three pediatric flu deaths last flu season, two of them in Maricopa County. The state had no pediatric flu deaths in the 2020-2021 flu season.
More than 16,000 cases of flu have been reported this season to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, which is unusually high for this time of year. Statewide, reported cases of flu are seven times higher than they were at this time last year, according to state data for the week ending Jan. 14.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Maricopa County reports 1st pediatric flu death of the season