Two West Slope kids among child flu fatalities

Colorado is in the midst of the worst flu season for children in the past five years, as state health officials announced Thursday that four kids — including two on the Western Slope — have died of the flu since mid-January.

Officials said at least some of the deaths of three toddlers and one baby could have been prevented if the children had been vaccinated.

On average, two children have died each of the past four influenza seasons, which last from October to May.

This season, two of the four children who died were partially vaccinated, having received one of the two recommended flu vaccinations. One was not vaccinated at all. The other was too young to be vaccinated, said Ken Gershman, chief of the communicable-disease program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

At least two of the children had serious underlying medical conditions that preceded the flu infection.

The hometowns of the children who died were not released.

“It’s obviously very unfortunate for those families, and it should drive the message home to parents that it’s very important for them to get their kids vaccinated against the flu,” Mesa County Health Department spokeswoman Kristy Emerson said.

Gershman said generally children who die from the flu do so within a few days of contracting the virus. They initially show mild symptoms of having a cold or cough before quickly developing pneumonia or a swelling of the upper airways, which can result in respiratory failure, he said.

“Some of these kids stop breathing at home, that’s how quick it can happen,” Gershman said.

Emerson said it’s not too late to obtain a flu shot, and there is plenty of vaccine available.

Parents and care-givers with babies too young for the vaccine — under 6 months old — should make sure they get vaccinated.

Emerson said she believes people can lump the flu in with cold season and therefore become complacent about it.

“You don’t really see flu as being serious,” she said. “Influenza is not seen as something that can cause deaths.”

Gershman said one factor that complicates the fight against pediatric influenza is that it’s only been five years since the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control began recommending universal flu vaccination of all children.

This year, for the first time, the CDC recommended children ages 6 months through 18 years receive the flu vaccine. Last year, the recommendation was only for ages 6 months to 6 years.

Gershman noted that while most other childhood vaccinations occur in a series until they’re done, flu vaccines should be administered every year.

So far this flu season, 152 people in Colorado have been hospitalized because of the flu, according to the state health department.


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