BOSTON - A teenage boy in Middlesex County has died from the flu, becoming the fourth flu-associated pediatric death of the flu season, Massachusetts health officials said Tuesday.
"This latest pediatric flu-related death underscores the seriousness of influenza and the need for everyone over the age of 6 months to get vaccinated. Data suggests that we may be past the peak of the flu season, however, it is not over yet," Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the state Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
The other three deaths, which occurred in January and February, involved a 12-year-old boy from Milford, a 4-year-old girl from Framingham and a 4-year-old girl from Lowell.
The four pediatric deaths this flu season are quadruple the deaths seen last season, when one flu-associated pediatric death occurred in Massachusetts.
Reports of both influenza-like illness and flu-related hospitalizations have declined since their peak in February, state health officials said.
Medical experts continue to encourage people to stay vigilant about washing their hands and getting vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease.
Dr. Ari Cohen, chief of pediatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the best thing people can do to protect themselves and others is to get a flu shot.
"Even if it's not the perfect vaccine, the fact that you've gotten the vaccine, you are probably more protected than if you had not been," Cohen said.
Just Monday, 101 students were out sick from Gardner Middle School after having flu-like symptoms, with the school nurse confirming five cases of the flu.
"If you’re sick with fever and a cough, you should not be attending a group function," Cohen said."You’re really putting your friends and loved ones at risk.”
Dr. Lauren Gallagher, an emergency room physician at St. Luke's in New Bedford, gave tips for when parents should worry about taking their child to a doctor, listing certain symptoms to keep in mind.
"If your child has a fever and you give them Tylenol or Motrin and the fever is not coming down in response to the medications or if the child is throwing up the medicine," Gallagher said. "If you think they are having difficulty breathing, like their chest is rising back and forth very quickly."
One local doctor told Boston 25 News the height of the flu season lasts through March, and it may be difficult to get the flu vaccine.
When called Tuesday night, a local CVS said they didn't have any of the vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths due to complications of flu in the U.S. each year.
State health officials estimate between 250 and 1,100 Massachusetts residents die annually from complications of influenza.
For more information on how you can protect yourself from influenza and flu-related hospitalizations in Massachusetts, visit the state's website.
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