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First pediatric flu death this year reported in Massachusetts

A syringe with an influenza vaccine.LM Otero/Associated Press

State public health officials on Thursday confirmed the first pediatric flu death of the season in Massachusetts.

The state Department of Public Health said in a statement that the victim was a teenager who lived in Worcester County and who tested positive for influenza B. Last flu season, DPH said, there were four confirmed flu-related deaths of people under the age of 18 in Massachusetts, and the CDC has reported 39 pediatric deaths this flu season nationwide.

"I feel immense sorrow for the family of this child. This is a tragic reminder of how serious the flu can be for both children and adults,’’ said Dr. Monica Bharel, the state public health commissioner, in the release from DPH. “Every flu season is different, but January and February are typically the height of flu season. We want people to know that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.”


Between 2,000 and 3,000 state residents have been hospitalized with the flu this season, and there have been 15,000 to 20,000 emergency room visits, according to DPH.

"Flu vaccination is our best protection against illness,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at DPH. ``People also should remember to wash their hands, cover their cough and sneeze, and stay home when they are sick to limit the spread of disease.”

The DPH issued several recommendations to prevent the spread of influenza, including getting the vaccine; contacting your healthcare provider if you detect symptoms; staying home when sick and for at least 24 hours after the fever goes away without fever-reducing medication; hand washing thoroughly and regularly or using hand sanitizer; and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough.

According to the DPH statement, the “flu virus is spread through droplets of saliva and mucus from the nose and mouth. If you are close enough to a person with the flu (3-to-6 feet) when they cough or sneeze, you can breathe in the virus and get sick. The flu virus can also live for a short time on things you touch, such as doorknobs, phones, and toys. Adults with flu can spread the virus one day before symptoms appear to approximately one week after. Children can spread the flu even longer after they get sick.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.