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Influenza B causing high number of pediatric flu deaths this season

Posted at 12:37 PM, Jan 15, 2020

“Nationwide it's been hitting pretty hard,” Dr. Suchitra Rao. a Pediatric Infectious Disease Doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said.

This flu season, however, doctors are seeing something unusual.

“It’s a very unusual type of year in terms of the virus we’re seeing,” Dr. Rao said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of Influenza B activity.”

Typically, the flu season will start off with one or two waves of Influenza A and end with Influenza B, but this year, that’s not the case.

“Influenza B tends to be more deadly or more virulent in the very young or the very old,” Dr. Steve Feagins, the Medical Director at Hamilton County Public Health in Ohio, said.

Across the country, kids have been getting sick, causing irreversible damage, or death.

A 16-year-old girl in Dallas died last week from flu complications. She was a healthy, active teenager in her junior year of high school.

Another 4-year-old girl in Iowa came down with the flu, and it left her blind. The illness caused Jade Phillips’ brain to swell, affecting her vision.

The Center for Disease Control reported a total of 32 flu-related pediatric deaths this season, double compared to this time last year. Twenty-one were associated with Influenza B, and five of those were due to a specific strain called B/Victoria.

Dr. Rao said this is the highest number they’ve seen this early in the flu season over the last 17 years.

“Of those kids who are being hospitalized, they tend to have a more severe illness,” Dr. Rao said. “So we are seeing a lot more kids end up in the ICU this time of year compared to what we might be seeing in previous years.”

It’s important to be aware -- especially in children and older adults -- because the type of flu is not always obvious.

“You can’t really differentiate one type from the other in terms of how people are feeling,” Dr. Rao said.

Both doctors say the flu shot can help. The CDC shows getting the vaccine can reduce your risk by 40 to 60 percent.

“It certainly decreases the severity of the flu,” Dr. Feagins said. “So if you find yourself with the flu and you’ve had the vaccine, hopefully it will be less severe.”

Getting the flu can worsen existing conditions, or cause other problems such as respiratory issues.

The best way to prevent infection is to wash your hands, avoid contact with anyone that has the flu, keep your hands away from your face, and clean surfaces that may have come into contact with flu germs, the CDC advises.