A King County child died of complications from the flu earlier this month — the first known case of a pediatric flu-related death in the county since 2009, public-health officials announced Monday.
The child was elementary-school aged and died in a Pierce County hospital on Dec. 15, according to a statement from Public Health — Seattle & King County. Three King County adults also have died since the start of this flu season, which began unusually early and is especially affecting children, health officials said.
“This is a really tragic reminder of how serious influenza infections can be,” Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said at a news conference announcing the death. “And this season in particular, we’re seeing a virus that’s impacting children particularly hard.”
The predominant strain circulating right now is the influenza B virus, which commonly affects children and young adults but can also affect adults, according to Public Health.
Officials are urging people to get vaccinated, especially young children, seniors and those who are pregnant or who have underlying health conditions. Duchin said that while getting flu vaccinations earlier in the season is recommended, it’s not too late. There are also anti-viral treatments available after flu-like symptoms appear, which can prevent people from getting sicker or developing complications, Duchin said.
Duchin declined to say whether the child who died had been vaccinated but said that each year, 80% to 90% of children who die from the flu were not vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented 187 pediatric flu deaths in the United States during the 2017-2018 flu season, but estimates the actual number is more than three times that amount.
People who die from the flu often have other health complications, so the flu isn’t always identified as the cause, Duchin said. Public Health estimates there are 70 to 500 flu-related deaths in King County each year.
People who get the flu can be contagious a day before symptoms develop and up to a week after becoming sick, according to Public Health. Symptoms include fever, cough, weakness and body aches.