HARTFORD, CT – The state Department of Public Health announced Thursday that a Connecticut child between the ages of 1 and 5 died of the flu last week.

The child –  one of nine people to succumb to influenza in Connecticut last week –  was the state’s first pediatric death of the 2019-20 flu season that has claimed 32 lives thus far among more than 1,350 hospitalizations.

“The death of any child is an absolute tragedy, and our hearts go out the Connecticut family who lost their child last week,” said DPH Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell. “I want to remind Connecticut residents that influenza is the virus that we are most worried about right now. We are at the height of the flu season. We estimate that 10-15% of Connecticut residents will come down with the flu before the season is over.”

Coleman-Mitchell also urged residents to get a flu shot for themselves and their children to help prevent more cases of the flu.

“Please, it is not too late to get a flu shot, and there are measures we can all take that can help keep us healthy this season,” Coleman-Mitchell said. “I encourage anyone who has questions to contact your primary care provider.”

As of last week, 6,404 positive tests for influenza had been reported to the DPH since the start of the season. The DPH reports that the number of people who visited emergency departments with influenza-like illnesses (ILIs) last week was 16.48% higher than the previous week.

Alan Siniscalchi, the DPH’s Surveillance Coordinator for Influenza, Bioterrorism & Public Health Preparedness, said that it appears that the season has not yet peaked because the number of cases is still increasing.

Siniscalchi said the season typically goes from January through March with some activity continuing through the end of May. But he said there is good modeling being done at universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it was thought that this year’s peak would be in mid-to-late January.

“But at least in the northeast, we are still seeing increasing activity,” Siniscalchi said. “So even though we’re seeing fewer hospitalizations and overall deaths this year than previous years, it’s turning out to be an extremely active flu season.”

He said he’s not sure when it will peak in Connecticut this year.

The DPH has a policy of not releasing case-specific information, so the identity of the child who died last week is being kept private, and they declined to verify whether the child was vaccinated.

However, Siniscalchi said that according to the CDC, between 70% and 80% of pediatric flu fatalities across the nation are among individuals who were not vaccinated.

“We want to make sure parents are aware that they need to vaccinate their kids at a very young age,” Siniscalchi said.

According to the DPH, everyone is at risk of developing serious flu complications and exposing others, and getting vaccinated helps to protect people around you from the virus that targets the respiratory system.

Those who are at highest risk of a severe case of the flu are children younger than 6 months who are too young to get a flu shot, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, and people 65 and older.

Which Flu Virus?

According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, flu viruses are constantly changing, and there are over 100 national influenza centers in over 100 countries that conduct year-round surveillance for influenza. 

Based on the data, a seasonal flu vaccine is designed and put into production to protect against the three or four influenza viruses thought most likely to spread during the upcoming flu season.

Siniscalchi said this year’s recommendation was the Quadrivalent flu vaccine, which protects people against four different types of flu, the two Flu A subtypes (H3N2 and H1N1) and two Flu B types (Victoria and Yamagata lineage). He said the Trivalent flu vaccine covers three types of the virus, the two Flu A types and one Flu B type.

In recent years H3N2 and H1N1 had been the predominant strains, Siniscalchi said, but that’s not the case this year. Instead, the majority of the cases are flu B.

“Usually we don’t see a lot of flu B until spring,” Siniscalchi said.

According to the DPH, of the 6,404 positive flu tests so far, 251 were H1N1, 44 were H3N2, and another 2,719 were unspecified type A viruses. The remaining 3,390 were B types.