An unvaccinated Kitsap County girl’s death from flu complications highlights the risks of the virus during a season that appears to be off to a late start, health officials said.
The death of an unvaccinated Port Orchard girl from complications of the flu underscores the risks of the common but potentially dangerous illness, a health official said Thursday.
Piper Lowery, 12, died Jan. 16, four days after falling ill with what doctors confirmed as H1N1 influenza, the girl’s mother, Pegy Lowery said. The girl received antiviral drugs during three medical visits, but the virus attacked her kidneys, leading to renal failure.
Piper had mild asthma, but was otherwise a healthy sixth-grader, her mother said Thursday. She and her 9-year-old brother received all the standard childhood vaccinations, but not flu shots, Lowery said.
Who’s at high risk for flu complications?
Most people who get flu will recover quickly, but some can develop serious problems, including these groups:
• Children younger than 5
• Adults 65 and older
• Pregnant women
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care centers
• American Indians and Alaska Natives
• People with chronic conditions including asthma, heart disease, lung disease and kidney and liver disorders and those with impaired immune systems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“We just decided not to,” Lowery said. “It doesn’t always help. Sometimes you get sick anyway.”
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Officials with the Kitsap Public Health District confirmed Wednesday that a school-age child had died of laboratory-confirmed influenza. But Dr. Susan Turner, the district’s health officer, said she couldn’t confirm or discuss details because of privacy restrictions.
But Turner did say any flu death in a child, especially a child with an underlying condition such as asthma, is a reminder of the need for seasonal flu vaccination.
“When a child dies, since it so much resonates as such a serious and unusual occurrence, it does kind of give us a reminder of the need to protect those we love,” she said.
Federal health officials recommend everyone older than 6 months receive a flu shot. Children are more vulnerable to the virus, especially those under 5 and those with underlying health problems, including asthma.
Flu seasons vary in severity, but nationwide, 148 children died from influenza complications during last year’s flu season. As of Jan. 9, seven children in the U.S. had died from flu this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu reports are starting to increase in Washington state and across the nation, data show. Flu activity typically peaks between December and February, but can last until as late as May.
Fewer than 60 percent of children 17 and younger received flu shots during the 2013-2014 season. Only about 42 percent of adults got the shots, figures showed.
Worry about effectiveness of the vaccine is one reason people don’t get flu shots, health officials say. Last year’s vaccine was a poor match for the circulating viruses, with an overall effectiveness of about 18 percent, the CDC reported.
“No vaccination is perfect. People can get sick even if they’ve been vaccinated and that’s true of influenza as well,” Turner said. “But the science shows that when someone is vaccinated with influenza vaccine, their illness is much less severe and they’re less likely to have complications.”
So far, this year’s vaccine appears to be a good match for the most common strains of the flu, including influenza A H1N1 and H3N2 and two influenza B strains, CDC reports show.
In a good year, flu vaccine is about 60 percent effective at preventing illness. But health officials contend that even in a bad season, such as 2014-2015, flu shots prevented 1.9 million illnesses and 966,000 medical visits.
In addition to vaccination, people should prevent flu by staying home when they’re sick, covering coughs and washing hands frequently, Turner said.