20 Kids Have Died From the Flu This Year: Here's What Parents Need to Know

baby on respirator
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The uptick of viruses that come with fall and winter never ceases to be stressful for parents. But the 2017–2018 flu season has proven to be downright devastating for many families. All in all, flu activity has affected all states in the country except Hawaii (and the District of Columbia), according to the weekly flu report released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report also noted that seven additional pediatric deaths were reported during the week ending January 6, bringing the total number of children who have passed away as a result of the flu this year to 20.

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In regard to whether or not the troubling trend is slowing down, Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC's Domestic Flu Surveillance team, explained to CNN: "Flu season may be peaking now. We know from past experience it will take many more weeks for flu activity to slow down. Basically, it looks like things are starting to level off. We didn't see the sharp increases that we saw the last couple of weeks. Over the next few weeks, we'll know if we peaked or not .... Either way, one of the really important things to remember is there are, probably for everybody, weeks to go in this flu season."

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Experts blame this year's flu epidemic on the particular strain H3N2, which children and seniors are more susceptible to. Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza branch, told CNN that H3N2 seasons are associated with higher rates of hospitalization and deaths, as well as lower vaccine effectiveness. Ultimately, at the end of the season, he thinks the effectiveness of the vaccine will end up at about 30 percent.

Meanwhile, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told the cable news outlet that the epidemic "started early; it then blossomed essentially all over the country more or less simultaneously. The upswing has been dramatic, and essentially the entire country is affected -- some parts more than others -- but flu is everywhere."

That said, the CDC and health-care providers are encouraging people to know the symptoms, which usually start suddenly: 

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.

*It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

The CDC notes that the time from when a person is exposed to flu virus and infected to when symptoms begin is about one to four days, with an average of about two days. 

Emergency warning signs for kids from the CDC include: 

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
  • Being unable to eat
  • Having no tears when crying

In addition to these signs, infants who need immediate medical care for the flu may be unable to eat, have trouble breathing, have no tears when crying, or have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.

If you or your LOs do happen to come down with the flu, it's heartening to know that you typically won't need medical care or antiviral drugs. The CDC says that in most cases, staying home and avoiding contact with other people is your best bet.

But those in a high-risk group -- like young children or pregnant women -- are at risk of complications, so seeing your health-care provider quickly is key. The benefit of antiviral treatment is greatest if treatment is started within two days after illness onset.

If you've been able to keep illness at bay this season, one of the best ways you can stay healthy is by getting the seasonal flu vaccine, according to the CDC. It recommends the vaccine to everyone 6 months of age and older.

More from CafeMom: Toddler's Tragic Flu Death Sparks Urgent Warnings to Get Kids Vaccinated

"Keep in mind that vaccination is especially important for certain people who are high-risk or who are in close contact with high-risk persons," the CDC notes. "This includes children at high-risk for developing complications from influenza illness, and adults who are close contacts of those children."

The stats support vaccination, as well. Between 2010 to 2014, the flu vaccine was proven to cut the risk of getting the flu by 51 percent in high-risk kids and 65 percent in kids with no other medical conditions. 

It's relieving to know there are actions families can take against this year's epidemic. Hopefully heightened awareness, additional vaccinations, and waning infections will put an end to this tragic flu season swiftly.

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