Arizona’s most populous county reported its first pediatric flu death of the season, showing that an early and severe flu outbreak is declining but not over.
Maricopa County’s death is Arizona’s third pediatric flu death for the 2022-2023 flu season, which began in October, state health officials confirmed Tuesday. The other two pediatric flu deaths occurred in Pinal and Cochise counties.
The death is a “tragic reminder” that anyone who can get the flu vaccine should not only protect themselves but also those around them, who are at highest risk of serious illness and death, he said dr Nick Staab, a medical epidemiologist at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
Babies under six months are too young to get the flu vaccine, making them more vulnerable to serious illness and death if infected, public health officials say.
County health officials would not disclose the age of the deceased child or say if the child was less than six months old, but they said the child was not vaccinated against the flu. The district also did not want to announce the date of death of the child.
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“This incredibly sad case reminds us that influenza, while widespread, can cause serious illness and even death,” Staab said. “If you have people in your home or around people who cannot be vaccinated, whether they are under the age of six months or for any other reason, that is one more reason for you to get vaccinated , so you can help protect them.”
Arizona experienced a second late flu spike last season, Staab said, so county public health officials are advising continued prevention efforts, including a flu shot, if you haven’t already. It usually takes two weeks for the flu shot to take effect after vaccination.
Another reason to keep up with the flu shot is the number of major events in Arizona, including the Super Bowl, according to county health officials. The county health department has a list of upcoming flu shots at Maricopa.gov/flu.
“Before you attend major events, get vaccinated. And if you’re sick, don’t go to big events. Stay home,” Staab said. “Even though we are currently seeing a decline, transmission is still widespread. And it’s not too late to get that flu vaccine.”
In the week ended Jan. 14, there were 85 pediatric flu deaths nationwide, flu surveillance data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, compared with 45 in the 2021-2022 flu season and just one in the 2020-2021 season, as many Americans did during on-site protection 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 during the 2020-2021 flu season.
More than 16,000 cases of the flu have been reported to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health this season, an unusually high number for this time of year. According to government data for the week ending Jan. 14, flu cases reported nationwide are seven times higher than at this time last year.