The recent death of a Niagara County child may be related to a combined influenza and bacterial infection, the Niagara County Department of Health announced Wednesday.
The child was a first grade student at St. Amelia's elementary school in the Town of Tonawanda. The child died Monday at a hospital in Erie County. The child's death was disclosed Tuesday by the Erie County Health Department, which reported a definite link to the flu.
The link is not definite, it's preliminary and based on a "rapid" test, according to Elaine Roman, NCDH spokesman. The child's death is still being investigated, she said.
Statewide, suspected pediatric deaths from flu are reported to, investigated and confirmed by the child's home county. Only pediatric deaths from flu are tracked; adult deaths linked to flu are not.
The child is not being identified per the family's wishes, Roman said. The child reportedly had no underlying medical condition and was previously healthy.
A possible flu-related death is not a sign that the virus has changed to cause more severe illness, Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said — but it stands as a reminder that, on occasion, flu can cause serious health complications and/or death. Flu activity is widespread in New York and across the United States in the 2012-13 season.
The department is still encouraging all Niagara County residents to get vaccinated. Just about everyone 6 months of age or older can.
While vaccination doesn't prevent all flu cases, public health experts say it helps reduce the virus' spread through the population and helps protect more vulnerable residents, including newborns and the chronically ill.
"It is not too late ... as flu season lasts through May or later," Stapleton said. "Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect you and your family."
Roman recommended that people who seek vaccination call their primary care physician first. If the physician's supply is exhausted, call the family pharmacist, she said. Per a recent order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pharmacists are allowed to dispense vaccine to children.
The Niagara County Department of Health also is dispensing flu vaccine for a fee, which is covered by most health insurers. For vaccination appointments, call 278-1903.