Health officials warn people to vaccinate after child dies from flu

Flu season is underway

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - An already rough flu season has turned deadly in Arizona. Maricopa County health officials confirm an infant too young to be immunized died of influenza.

There haven’t been any flu deaths in southern Arizona, but a recent spike in the number of reported illnesses has local health officials concerned.

“We have seen a triple in the cases reported to us in the last several weeks,” Paula Mandel, the deputy director of the Pima County Health Department, said.

Mandel says the flu season came months earlier than last year’s and the strain is different. Most of the cases have been Influenza B.

A Tucson family spent Tuesday evening at Reid Park, enjoying their “play time” more than usual because it meant their 2-year-old boy was doing better.

“It’s day four of the flu,” Keylee Lefferman, the boy’s mother, said.

She says her son’s symptoms started off as coughing, crying and a runny nose. But Lefferman knew something wasn’t right.

“His fever was 103,” she said.

Worried, Lefferman said she immediately took him to the ER.

“I was in the hospital with him for two days,” she said.

Thankfully, Lefferman says her son is on the upswing.

Mandel tells us Pima County has historically high flu vaccination rates in school-aged children, and she’s hoping to spread the message to adults.

“We want to make sure, first and foremost, that they are healthy,” Mandel said. “But it’s going to have an impact on others too.”

Infants, children, elders and those with chronic illnesses are at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms. Mandel says when the majority of a population is vaccinated it creates herd immunity — also referred to as a “circle of protection” — around those who can’t receive the shot.

Lefferman hopes the increase in flu cases serves as a reminder for people to get their shots and to carry hand sanitizer. She also warns parents not to downplay their children’s symptoms.

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