Local News

Officials believe child died of H1N1

Posted September 25, 2009 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2009 11:12 p.m. EDT

— State public health officials reported Friday that they believe a North Carolina child has died of the H1N1 flu virus.

This is the first child death linked to the virus in North Carolina since H1N1 was first reported last spring, officials said. Ten other North Carolina residents have also died from the illness.

The child died last Saturday of complications from the flu. The child was at risk for complications because of underlying medical conditions, officials said.

State public health officials refused to release the child's hometown, county, age and sex citing a state law dealing with patient confidentiality.

Attorneys for WRAL News disagree, saying some specifics can and should be released for the public good.

Although the child's flu test was not specific to H1N1, the strain accounts for 99 percent of all flu now circulating in the state and country, officials said, so they believe H1N1 to be linked to the death.

"This is always a difficult announcement to make,” State Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said in a statement. “We hope that making people aware of this tragic case will remind others to be vigilant about protecting themselves and their children.”

Engel said vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. Seasonal flu vaccine is already available, and the first doses of an H1N1 vaccine are expected to be delivered nationwide next month.

Children ages 6 months to 24 years are one of the priority groups to receive the H1N1 vaccine, along with pregnant women, people who live with or care for infants, health care and emergency workers and adults with weakened immune systems.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in flu activity since school started,” said Dr. Zack Moore, a respiratory disease epidemiologist for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Flu shots help prevent people from becoming ill and from spreading flu to others,” Engel said. “This year they are even more important because of H1N1. And if you do get sick, remember to stay home from work or school, cover coughs and sneezes and wash your hands.”

Health officials say one of the best ways to help lower risk to the flu is to practice basic prevention tips, including frequent hand washing, avoiding others exhibiting symptoms and staying at home, if sick.

Dr. Bobby Park, who works at the WakeMed Hospital emergency room, said there has been a lot of flu cases coming into the hospital.

The flu season doesn't traditionally start until November or December, Park said, but sick patients are already coming in, in large numbers.