British Columbia’s public health officer pledged weekly updates on influenza deaths Thursday, as she confirmed at least six children had died of complications linked to the virus this season.
In a statement Thursday evening, Bonnie Henry said early findings suggest some of the children suffered secondary bacterial infections, a possible flu complication.
The statement was Henry’s first mention of flu deaths among children, despite holding a media briefing Monday specifically to update the public on a surge in respiratory illnesses this winter.
“The children who died included one who was younger than five years old, three who were between five and nine, and two adolescents who were between 15 and 19,” Henry said in the statement.
“Death associated with influenza in previously healthy children is a tragic, but rare event and is especially rare in school-age children and teens.”
Henry described the flu season as having “unusual characteristics,” including an “early and intense surge in cases.”
As a result, she said public health had increased its flu surveillance, and pledged that updates on pediatric influenza-related deaths will be posted weekly on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s website.
Henry stressed the importance of vaccinating children against the flu, particularly those at the highest risk of severe outcomes including kids with chronic medical conditions, children who need to take Aspirin or ASA for long periods of time, obese children and infants and toddlers.
She also advised parents of high-risk children to talk to their health-care provider about the anti-viral drug oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu, which is effective if used early in the infection.
“Parents of all children should seek care if your child experiences difficulty breathing, or if your child’s fever goes away and comes back or persists longer than five days. This may indicate a possible bacterial infection,” Henry added
Speaking with Global News on Wednesday, Vancouver family physician Dr. Anna Wolak said B.C. has typically recorded just one or two flu deaths among children during an entire season.
“We do know that flu kills,” she said. “We do know that influenza can kill the youngest and the oldest but the rate that what’s being reported at the moment is higher than what we normally see in a season.
“So the worrying thing is that not only are there more cases but we’re hearing that a number of the cases are actually sicker than what we’re used to seeing.”
Wolak said the strain of flu circulating this year is H3N2, the same strain this year’s flu vaccine was formulated around, meaning it should provide good protection.
While there has been significant uptake of the vaccine among older adults, just 20 per cent of children aged five to 11 had been vaccinated as of Monday.