Warning for parents: Child flu deaths hit record high for this time of year

Child flu deaths on the rise

This year’s flu season has been especially deadly for children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, with 27 children dying from flu complications nationwide through the end of December.

That is the highest number of child deaths from influenza at this point in any season in the past 16 years, the CDC says.

The number of deaths for children under age 18 is more than twice the number of 2017-2018 pediatric deaths from influenza. That flu season was considered one of the worst on record with 187 children dead from influenza by the end of the season.

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The CDC reports that “widespread” flu activity has been seen in 45 states and Puerto Rico, and that, unusually, the flu virus Influenza B has been the dominant strain of flu seen this season.

Doctors say children are particularly susceptible to influenza B. Adults contract influenza B less often, as many adults gain immunity from that flu strain since the virus does not change much from year to year, the CDC says.

The fact that B strains are being seen this early does not bode well for the rest of the season."Hopefully, this turns around and comes down, but if it continues on the trajectory it’s on, it’s not going to be good," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

Flu season started early this year, and so far, it does not appear to have peaked as more cases of A strains – H1N1 and H3N2 – of flu are being seen. In most years, A strains come early in the season and B strains follow.

Even more concerning is that while the flu vaccine seems to be a good match for the A strain of the flu, this season’s flu shot does not look like a good match for the B Victoria flu, according to the CDC.

However, CDC officials stress that it is better to get a flu vaccination even if it is not as effective against the current dominant strain. The shot, doctors say, can lessen flu complications even if it does not prevent you from getting the flu.

It is not too late to get the vaccination, CDC officials said. It takes about two weeks after receiving the shot for the body to build the antibodies necessary to fight the virus. The vaccines protect against two strains of influenza A virus and two strains of influenza B.

At least 6.4 million flu-related illnesses, 55,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from the flu have been recorded so far this season, the CDC reported.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever, which may be as high as 103°F to 105°F
  • Body aches, which may be severe
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough that gets worse
  • Tiredness
  • Runny or stuffy nose

The last week of December saw these flu activity levels:

  • High level – The District of Columbia, New York City, Puerto Rico, and these 34 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin
  • Moderate level – Nine states: Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming
  • Low level – Five states: Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Nevada
  • Minimal –Two states: Delaware and Idaho
VIVIAN, LA - DECEMBER 12: With a temperature of 103.8, Asa Moore, 6, of Vivian, Louisiana is examined by John Messier, a physician's assistant, at the North Caddo Surgical and Medical Center for symptoms of Influenza December 12, 2003 in Vivian, Louisiana. Moore had not received a flu shot and the medical center was out of the vaccine.
VIVIAN, LA - DECEMBER 12: With a temperature of 103.8, Asa Moore, 6, of Vivian, Louisiana is examined by John Messier, a physician's assistant, at the North Caddo Surgical and Medical Center for symptoms of Influenza December 12, 2003 in Vivian, Louisiana. Moore had not received a flu shot and the medical center was out of the vaccine. (Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images/Getty Images)