King County elementary school student dies from flu complications

SEATTLE - An elementary school-aged child who lived in King County has died from flu complications, marking the first flu death in a King County child in 10 years, according to Seattle-King County Public Health.

The child was healthy before contracting the flu and died Dec. 15 at a Pierce County hospital. Public health officials haven't released the child's age or which hospital the child was admitted to.

It's the fourth King County flu-related death this year.

“Losing a child to influenza is heartbreaking and I want to extend our deep sympathy to the family,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. ”This death is a tragic reminder of how serious influenza can be, especially for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with long-term health conditions.

“I urge everyone to get an annual flu vaccine and to stay home when sick to help prevent the spread of illness to these more vulnerable groups,” continued Duchin. “If you’re in a high risk group and develop influenza symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away – antiviral treatment can prevent serious complications.”

King County, Washington state and many areas of the United States are seeing an unusually early start to the influenza season. The predominant strain currently circulating is an influenza B virus, which is particularly dangerous for young children.

"B strains tend to cause more serious illnesses in children relatively to adults, A strains tend to cause more illnesses to adults relatively to children," Dr. Duchin said.

And since this season's B strain has not been around for many years, it could mean more people are susceptible.

"We haven’t seen a lot of immunity in the population to the virus," Dr. Duchin said.

Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. People who are sick with the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms; not everyone with flu will have a fever.

During the 2017 to 2018 season, 187 children reportedly died from the flu across the country but because the flu is very underreported Dr. Duchin says that number is closer to 600 children. About 80% of those deaths are children who were not vaccinated.

"We don't see a large number of vaccinated kids dying from influenza," Dr. Duchin said.

Other counties are being hit hard by the flu as well. In Snohomish County, many schools are reporting 10% to 20% of absenteeism is because of the flu.