The Bulletin

Virginia reports first pediatric flu death of season as cases remain high

By: - November 30, 2022 4:52 pm

VCU’s emergency hospital entrance in Richmond. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For The Virginia Mercury)

Virginia recorded its first influenza-related pediatric death of the 2022-23 flu season Wednesday.

According to a release from the Virginia Department of Health, a child between the ages of 5 and 12 in the state’s southwestern region died “from complications associated with influenza.” 

“Flu can be a very dangerous illness,” said State Health Commissioner Colin Greene. “With Virginia and many other states experiencing high or very high levels of flu activity, I urge everyone who is eligible to receive the flu vaccine to do so as soon as possible, consulting your physician as needed.”

Flu and other respiratory illnesses have been hitting children across the nation hard this year, with sharp upticks in cases weeks ahead of the typical flu season. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Nov. 19, the U.S. had recorded 12 pediatric flu deaths. Of those, five occurred during the week ending Nov. 19, the most recent period for which national data are available. 

Visits to the emergency department or urgent care centers for flu or flu-like illnesses. (Virginia Department of Health)

In Virginia, hospitals have reported full or nearly full pediatric units for weeks due to the surge in respiratory illnesses among children. 

The Virginia Department of Health’s most recent Weekly Influenza Activity Report, which also covers the week ending Nov. 19, rated Virginia’s influenza activity level “very high.” 

During that week, the agency reported that 8% of all emergency department and urgent care visits were for flu or flu-like illness. One-fifth of all those visits were for children in the 0- to 4-year age group. 

While VDH data show a downtick in medical visits for flu over the past few weeks, a spokesperson for the Division of Surveillance and Investigation said “it is still too early to say if we have reached the peak yet.”

Virginia had one pediatric flu death during the 2021-22 season and none during the 2020-21 season, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing and large portions of the population were working from home and socially distancing. 

The most severe years for pediatric flu deaths in Virginia over the past two decades were the 2009-10, 2017-18 and 2019-20 flu seasons. In each of those seasons, six children aged zero to 17 years died from influenza. 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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