By Karen Garloch
The first N.C. child has died from flu since the emergence of H1N1 influenza last spring, state health officials announced Friday.
The child died Sept. 19 of complications from what was likely an infection with the H1N1 virus. The flu test was not specific for H1N1. But health officials said they assume the cause was the new swine-flu strain because it accounts for more than 99 percent of the flu now circulating in the state and the country.
Before this death, North Carolina had reported 11 confirmed deaths from H1N1 flu since the spring.
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State health officials said the child was at risk for complications because of underlying medical conditions.
"This is always a difficult announcement to make," State Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said in a statement. "We hope that making people aware of this tragic case will remind others to be vigilant about protecting themselves and their children."
Most healthy children and adults who get the flu recover without needing to see a doctor. But those who have chronic medical problems and whose flu symptoms become severe are advised to contact their doctors immediately.
Those at highest risk for complications from H1N1 flu are children younger than 5, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, or conditions that weaken the immune system.
Older people are at high risk for complications from seasonal flu, but they don't seem to be as susceptible to H1N1 flu.
Seasonal flu vaccine is already available through health departments, doctors' offices and pharmacies. The H1N1 vaccine is expected to become available in October, through health departments, doctors' offices and maybe through school-based clinics.
Engel encouraged people to get vaccinated when the shots become available. In the meantime, he reminded people to stay home from school or work if they get the flu.
To prevent getting or spreading the flu, he advised people to wash their hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or a sleeve.