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Michigan confirms 4th flu-related death of child

1:18 PM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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Results of lab tests have confirmed the second influenza-related death of a teenager in central Michigan - the fourth pediatric death this year - as flu season continues to sweep the state earlier than usual.

It wasn't clear whether the two teens had any connection to each other, nor would the state release the name of the teens, citing confidentiality concerns.

But last week, Joshua Polehna, 15, of Lake Fenton High School in Genesee County died after he reportedly had flu-like symptoms, officials have said.

A parent of another student also has died, the district's superintendent, Wayne Wright, said in a letter to parents and the community Monday. It's unclear whether the parent had a connection with any of the children who died.

Wright's letter underscored for parents the symptoms of the flu - fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose and muscle aches - and informed them that any student with symptoms will be sent home.

It's difficult to know precisely how many people die each year from the flu, in part, because states aren't required to report adult deaths.

However, flu-related deaths of anyone under 18 must be reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been warning of an earlier-than-usual flu season this year. It's unclear why.

But already this flu season, Michigan has recorded deaths of a 6-month-old, a 6-year-old and a 13-year-old, said Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Though flu generally is most dangerous for the very young, the very old or those with compromised immune systems, age is no guarantee of the body's resistance to the virus. The 15-year-old boy who died had no other health issues, Minicuci said.

About 91% of the 285 flu cases verified by the state this year were of the strains that this season's flu vaccine should protect against. It's unclear how many of those who were sickened were vaccinated, Bob Swanson, head of the state's vaccination efforts, said earlier this week.

Though no vaccine is 100% effective, "it's still the best protection" against the flu, said Mark Valacak, health officer for the Genesee County Health Department.

"This should throw up a red flag for parents. This isn't just the very, very young or those with poor immune systems," she said.

Detroit Free Press, Robin Erb

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