PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Following the death of a 4-year-old girl from Lowell, health officials are urging everyone to ensure they’ve received their flu shot.
The girl was the third child to die in Massachusetts this flu season. Officials said a 12-year-old boy from Milford and a 4-year-old girl from Framingham had previously died from flu-related complications.
Last season, there was one flu-associated pediatric death in Massachusetts.
So far this season, there have been no pediatric flu deaths in Rhode Island, but the Department of Health said the illness has killed 20 adults statewide.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the health department, said while the number is still high, it’s actually less than last year.
“Last year was a particularly severe flu season,” he said. “We saw 60 fatalities last year. So far, we’ve seen 491 hospitalizations that are flu-related. That is compared to around 1,300 last year.”
But Wendelken stressed that the season isn’t over yet and is urging everyone to make sure they’re vaccinated.
“It’s a very serious virus,” Wendelken said. “It’s not just a bad cold.”
According to Wendelken, the strain impacting Rhode Island so far this year is the H1N1 strain, which he said is covered by the vaccine.
The health department reports that so far, 6.5% of all patient visits in Rhode Island are for flu-related symptoms.
“It’s an indication there’s a lot of flu out there and it’s all throughout Rhode Island, and it’s what we’d expect this time of year,” Wendelken added.
With the flu widespread across the country, Wendelken said it’s important for parents to keep a close eye on their children.
“Kids will be kids, but to an extent, you can keep an eye on when kids are putting hands in their mouth and their eyes things like that,” he said.
Wendelken said it’s too early to say how effective the flu vaccine is this year, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says so far, the vaccine has reduced the risk of flu-related doctor visits by 47% nationwide.