With the flu already widespread in Virginia, health officials reported Thursday that a Northern Virginia child has died from influenza — the state's first pediatric flu death this season.
The death of a child from the state's Northern Region, aged 0-4, was reported Wednesday to the Centers for Disease Control, according to Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy state epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.
The CDC had previously reported 10 pediatric deaths nationwide attributed to the flu since Oct. 1, 2013.
Although officials did not disclose more specifically where the child was from, the Northern Region consists of the following health districts: Loudoun, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Rappahannock, Rappahannock/Rapidan and Lord Fairfax.
Flu cases in Virginia are already widespread, according to state and federal reporting. While several strains of the influenza virus have been detected, influenza A (H1N1) viruses have predominated both in Virginia and nationwide.
This is the same H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic. H1N1 viruses have continued to circulate among people since that time, according to the CDC, but this is the first season that the virus has circulated at high levels since the pandemic.
"The difference is that in 2009, it was novel," Forlano said. "It was the first time it had been present in this country, or really anywhere. Now it's not as novel, but it certainly is predominate."
Health officials urge that it's not too late to vaccinate, and they recommend that anyone aged 6 months and older, including pregnant women, who has not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season should get one now. And a new study finds the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu-related illness in pregnant women by half.
Although the flu generally affects young children and older adults most seriously, health officials point out this year's strains are hitting a younger, healthier population.
The CDC tweeted the following two messages that succinctly sum up the situation:
- "#Healthy people are less likely to get vaccinated, but so far are more likely to be #hospitalized from #flu this season."
- "So far, 61.6% of the reported flu hospitalizations this season have been in people 18 to 64 yrs old. http://t.co/qyRr9DnAHE #fightflu"
Forlano agreed that in Virgnia, too, this year's flu is hitting younger and healthier people "who happen to be the ones who don't get vaccinated as well."
Overall, flu activity in Virginia is about where health officials expect it to be at this time of year, Forlano said. The flu generally peaks in January and February, but can continue as late as May.
"There's no information to indicate that it's unusally severe this year," she expained. "But with that said, the flu can be dangerous, and the flu can be deadly."
FOLLOW FAIRFAX CITY PATCH FOR THE LATEST NEWS AND EVENTS!