Speaking at a late-afternoon press conference, Devlin said the Montgomery County boy was admitted to the hospital last Saturday afternoon and died that night. He was the first child to die from the flu in North Carolina this year.
Devlin said the boy was considered very healthy before he got sick.
"It appears he was not in the at-risk group," she said. "But we are continuing our investigation."
According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
flu and its complications are the sixth-leading cause of death nationally among children 4 and younger. North Carolina averages about 1,000 deaths a year from flu or pneumonia, about 15 being people under the age of 19.
Devlin said she did not know how long this flu season will last, calling the flu an unpredictable virus that people can catch at various times of the year.
"It may peak in December," she said. "It may continue on and peak in March, like last year. It could decline in activity and then peak again later on. It is just hard to predict."
Parents of sick children are asked to keep them at home and fever-free for 24 hours before allowing them to return to school.
Devlin said about five people under 19 died from flu and pneumonia in the first six months of 2003. She said the vast majority of people who contract the flu recover after a week.
"In a small number of people, unfortunately, the illness is much more serious," she said.
High-risk groups include pregnant women, the elderly, and infants 6 months to 23 months old.
Thursday, nurses at Wake County Human Services in Raleigh only will give the vaccine to at-risk children. Healthy adults and older children can get the inhaled FluMist vaccine at a cost of $55.
Devlin said high-risk individuals should seek flu shots. She advised healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 to take FluMist, in part to help preserve the vaccine supply for people who can not take FluMist.
"We are working to get more vaccine for young children and high-risk children," Devlin said.
Devlin praised the public's response to her department's calls for immunization.
"This flu season, we have immunized more than five times the number of children that we have in past flu seasons," she said. "Last year, we immunized 29,000 North Carolina children. This year, we have immunized 153,000."
Citing patient confidentiality issues, Devlin released few details about the latest death.
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