Health officials reported the area's first death linked to the flu this week.
Preliminary testing has indicated that the recent death of a Niagara County child may be related to a combined influenza and serious bacterial infection, the Niagara County Department of Health reported Wednesday. The Niagara County child was diagnosed in Erie County, where the individual also attended elementary school.
The child was previously healthy and had no underlying medical condition. To protect the privacy of the family, no further information about the individual will be released. "Every death is a tragedy, and our sincere condolences are extended to the family at this difficult time," said Daniel J. Stapleton, Niagara County Public Health director.
Stapleton emphasized that the death does not mean the influenza virus has changed to cause more severe illness. "Most people with the flu continue to have mild to moderate symptoms and recover at home without medical treatment. Sadly, ordinary seasonal flu can, and occasionally does, cause serious illness and death, usually to individuals with underlying medical risk factors." Those at higher risk of serious illness and complications from the flu include pregnant women, infants less than six months of age, people with other underlying health conditions or chronic diseases and advanced age.
Individuals with higher risk of serious illness and complications from the flu should contact their health care providers if ill or exposed to someone diagnosed with flu. Their doctors will determine if antiviral treatment is indicated. Antiviral treatment is only effective if given before, or within the first 24 to 48 hours of symptom onset. "While the majority of individuals who have flu recover at home without medical treatment, there are times when it is appropriate to seek medical treatment. Anyone experiencing severe or worsening symptoms should seek medical attention," advised Stapleton.
Flu activity is widespread in New York state and the U.S.
"While vaccine offers the greatest protection from the flu, some doctors are reporting shortages in their offices," Stapleton said.
Individuals seeking flu vaccination should contact their doctors' offices for vaccine availability, first. Most Niagara County pharmacies are offering adult flu shots as well, and some are providing shots to children. Persons should call their local pharmacies to be sure before taking their children.
The Niagara County Department of Health has flu vaccine for adults and children. The appointment line is 716-278-1903.
Stapleton emphasized, "Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect you and your family. It is not too late to get vaccinated, as flu season lasts through May or later." Other advice to prevent flu includes:
•Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of the elbow, not the hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after use.
•Wash hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if not near a sink.
•Keep hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth.
•Avoid close contact with sick people.
•Stay home when sick. Do not return to school or work until fever-free without medication for at least 24 hours.
More flu information is available on the CDC website at www.flu.gov.