Friday, May 17, 2024

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks out on influenza-related deaths in BC children


There is a shortage of children’s pain medication, sick children are overwhelming hospitals and parents are struggling to get their kids flu shots in time for the holidays.

On Friday, December 9th, BC’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, made a statement about children dying of this year’s influenza.

“The BC Centre for Disease and Control (BCCDC) is aware of six reports of influenza-associated deaths among children and youth in B.C. this season, with investigations ongoing. My thoughts are with families and communities impacted by the loss of a loved one,” said Dr. Henry.

She told the province that in some of these six cases of influenza-related deaths, the children experienced secondary bacterial infections which is a complication of influenza in severe cases.

“It is important to know that death associated with influenza in previously healthy children continues to be rare. Public-health officials are monitoring the situation closely, and we urge everyone to do their part by taking steps to protect yourself, your children and loved ones against the flu.”

The children and youth who suffered influenza-related deaths consist of one who was not even 5-years-old, three who were between the ages of 5 and 9-years-old and two between 15 and 19-years-old.

“This is an unusual season with unusual characteristics, including an early and intense surge in cases,” said Dr. Henry.

“With this unusual pattern, enhanced surveillance has been implemented that includes reporting of pediatric influenza-related deaths to public-health officials.”

“As the information is confirmed, updates on pediatric influenza-related deaths will be posted weekly as part of the respiratory surveillance summaries on the 

She said that the BCCDC has been posting weekly summaries on respiratory and influenza-related statistics including weekly numbers for deaths related to these. 

“You can take measures to prevent influenza and to treat those at higher risk of severe complications.” 

“Vaccination remains our best defence,” said Dr. Henry. 

Flu-shots and nasal vaccination against this year’s most dangerous influenza strains are available to all children who are 6-months-old and above in BC.

Health experts agree that this is most important for kids who have the highest risk of severe outcomes which include children with chronic medical conditions, those who need to take Aspirin or ASA for long periods of time, children who are obese as well as infants and toddlers.

“While children typically have the highest respiratory-virus infection rates, most children with influenza and other respiratory viruses typically recover safely at home without the need for medical intervention,” said Dr. Henry. 

The provincial health officer’s best recommendation to parents of children who are in the highest risk categories is to ask their health-care provider about gaining early access to an anti-viral drug called oseltamivir, colloquially known as Tamiflu. 

Tamiflu is most effective if started within 12 hours of flu symptoms, ideally it should be taken before the 48 hour mark of symptom onset. 

“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,” said Dr. Henry.

“This may indicate a possible bacterial infection.”

As with any illness, Dr. Henry and all leading medical health experts recommend staying home if you are sick, frequently washing your hands and following proper respiratory etiquette, such as covering your coughs, disposing of tissues and wearing a mask when in public, if you are symptomatic. 

Curtis Blandy

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