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Kentucky matches record for pediatric flu deaths with six so far this season

A health care provider injects a patient's shoulder with a flu vaccine.
Mary Meehan
/
Medical officials expect this year’s flu season to be one of the worst documented.

Six children have died from the flu this season, matching the previous record set during the 2019-2020 influenza season, according to the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the deaths Monday, including three deaths in the past week.

“This is a milestone we did not want to cross, and our prayers are with each of these families as they mourn the loss of their loved one,” Beshear said in a news release.

Dr. Kris Bryant, with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases Institute, said though deaths are expected every year, this flu season has been particularly harsh on children.

“We always have kids die from flu, [but] three kids in the last week seems unusual to me,” Bryant said.

According to the most recent weekly influenza report from the Department for Public Health, 54 adults have died.

With more than half of the commonwealth’s regions reporting increases in flu-like illness or confirmed cases, the state is at the highest level of spread.

More than 6,200 confirmed new cases of influenza were reported between Dec. 4 and Dec. 10. The total number of reported cases is nearly 30,000.

Bryant said the flu alone can cause hospitalization, but oftentimes a secondary bacterial infection causes severe disease.

Invasive group A strep, the strain of bacteria that causes strep throat, is particularly prevalent this year.

“But it’s not staying in the throat,” Bryant said. “It’s causing severe disease, so bloodstream infections, pneumonia and other sorts of serious infections.”

Children make up a majority of confirmed flu cases, particularly those ages 1 to 10 years old.

With numbers already reaching record levels, Bryant said this could be one of the worst flu seasons in at least 10 years.

She and other health officials have urged people to get themselves and any children in their care vaccinated against the virus.

“The good news is we have safe and effective flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older,” Bryant said. “The bad news is that not all kids are getting influenza vaccine.”

According to the Department for Public Health, none of the children who died from the flu were vaccinated against the virus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that less than 40% of Kentucky children ages 6 months to 17 years old have received their flu vaccine. The national average is just over 45%.

The lack of vaccination, for both flu and COVID-19, are helping fuel the ongoing “tripledemic” — simultaneous surges in COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu.

Healthcare providers have been trying to balance handling all three viruses at the same time. They continue to urge people to get vaccinated against them.

In addition to getting vaccinated, health officials say mitigation efforts like hand washing, masking in crowded places and staying away from others when sick are important measures in stopping the spread of the flu and other illnesses.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.