Flu Takes Toll on Maryland's Young

Two teens die while being treated for influenza

WASHINGTON -- The flu has hit Maryland's youth hard of late and is suspected in the death of at least one teenager.

The Howard County Health Department warned parents Wednesday to watch out for the flu following the death of a teenager in the county.

"This tragic death is highly unusual," said health officer Dr. Peter Beilenson. "Most people who get the flu recover after a few days, but getting a flu shot and following common hygiene precautions can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the flu."

On Feb. 19, a Frederick County teen being treated for the flu died, the Frederick News-Post reported. The Frederick County Health Department is investigating the exact cause of death. Doctors at Children's National Medical Center suspect 13-year-old Ian Matthew Willis was weakened by something like a staph infection due to his low white blood cell count.

The flu apparently swept through an elementary school in Towson, too. The Archdiocese of Baltimore closed Immaculate Conception School for the next few days because dozens of students and some staff have been home sick with flu-like symptoms. The school will be cleaned during that time "to make it as germ-free as possible," archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said.

The deaths of young people due to the flu are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has reported only nine pediatric flu deaths in the country this year.

The CDC offered the following advice:

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or anti-bacterial hand cleaners.
  • Avoid contact with sick people and stay home from work or school when you are sick yourself.

The flu may include the following symptoms:

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Headache
  • Tiredness (can be extreme)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)

In children, the following are warning signs that require immediate medical attention:

  • High or prolonged fever
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Changes in mental status, such as seizures, not waking up or not interacting, and being so irritable that the child does not want to be held.
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes

Adults should be wary of:

  • High or prolonged fever
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Near-fainting or fainting
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Those with the flu should get plenty of rest; drink a lot of fluids like water, juice and hot tea; and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and fever. Aspirin should never be given to children or teens with flu-like symptoms. Children should not be given over-the-counter medication without a pediatrician's consultation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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