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First flu death of a child reported in N.C. since emergence of 2009 H1N1 strain

Release Date: September 25, 2009
Contact: Lois Nilsen, 919-733-9190

RALEIGH – North Carolina has reported the first child death from flu since the 2009 H1N1 strain was first reported in the U.S. last spring.

The child died Saturday, Sept. 19, of complications from an influenza infection. (To protect the family’s privacy, the child’s hometown, county, age and sex are not being released.) Although the influenza test was not specific for 2009 H1N1, this strain accounts for more than 99 percent of all flu currently circulating in the state and the country. This child’s death is likely due to infection with the 2009 H1N1 strain. The child was at risk for complications from the flu because of underlying medical conditions.

“This is always a difficult announcement to make,” State Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said. “We hope that making people aware of this tragic case will remind others to be vigilant about protecting themselves and their children.”

Most healthy children and adults who get the flu will recover without needing to see a doctor, but it is important that people contact their doctor right away if they are ill and at high risk for flu complications or have more severe flu symptoms.

 People at high risk for H1N1 and seasonal flu complications are:

  • children younger than 5 years old – particularly children younger than 2 years old
  • adults 65 years of age or older
  • pregnant women
  • people with the following conditions:
    • chronic diseases of the lungs (including asthma), heart (except hypertension), kidney, liver, blood (including sickle cell disease), brain or nervous system, muscles (particularly those that cause difficulty with swallowing) or metabolism (including diabetes mellitus)
    • immunosuppression (weakened immune system) including that caused by medications or by HIV
  • children younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

Dr. Engel stressed that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. Seasonal flu vaccine is already available. Dr. Engel also urged everyone to watch for announcements by state and local health officials alerting them when 2009 H1N1 vaccine becomes available.

“Flu shots help prevent people from becoming ill and from spreading flu to others,” he said. “This year they are even more important because of H1N1. And if you do get sick, remember to stay home from work or school, cover coughs and sneezes and wash your hands.”

For more information about influenza in North Carolina, go to www.flu.nc.gov