Flu claims life of child in El Paso County; cases climb

BARBARA COTTER Updated: January 15, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 15, 2013

A toddler from El Paso County has died from the flu, the fourth pediatric death in Colorado in an early, active flu season, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported Tuesday.

It's the only reported death in the county so far this season, which began in October, but there could be others that weren't reported, said Dr. Bill Letson, medical director for El Paso County Public Health. Pediatric deaths are required to be reported, while deaths in the elderly population aren't.

Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, 62 people have been hospitalized with the flu in El Paso County, compared with 45 for the entire 2011-12 season. It's still far less than the 188 cases reported in 2009-10, but included in that count are cases tied to an H1N1 pandemic that hit the U.S. outside the traditional flu season.

El Paso County also has tallied five flu outbreaks in long-term care facilities this season, Letson said, pushing the state total to 13. Letson said an outbreak can involve as few as three cases.

Statewide, 674 people from 36 counties had been hospitalized with the flu as of Jan. 12. Last season, there were 846 cases.

Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer for the state health department, urged people to get the flu vaccine because the virus is likely to continue circulating.

"While the timing of influenza season is impossible to predict, based on past experience it's likely that flu activity will continue for some time," he said in a news release.

Vaccine supplies are adequate, Letson said, and appear to be well-matched to the viruses that are circulating this year. Officials estimate the vaccine will reduce a person's risk of having to go to the doctor by about 60 percent.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that vaccine effectiveness can be influenced by a number of factors, including a person's age and underlying health conditions.

"In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children," the CDC says. "Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses might develop less immunity than healthy young adults after vaccination. However, even for these people, the flu vaccine still may provide some protection."

Those strongly encouraged to get the vaccination include children 6 months to 4 years old; people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease; women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant; American Indians; those who are morbidly obese; nursing home/chronic care facility residents; health care professionals; and caregivers of children younger than 5 or adults 50 and older.

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