CLEVELAND (AP) – Four Ohio children have died of flu-related illnesses in the past two weeks as the number of cases statewide appears to be peaking, health officials said Monday.
Two of the deaths were from Columbiana County in eastern Ohio, including a 6-year-old boy from Salem and a 7-year-old boy from East Liverpool, who died on Saturday. Columbiana County Health Commissioner Wes Vins said on Monday that the two boys lived at opposite ends of the county and that nothing has been found to connect their deaths.
The other two deaths were a 7-year-old girl in Fulton County in northwest Ohio and a 6-year-old girl in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland. One child died during the previous flu season, which spans from October to May, and six died during that same period between 2014 and 2015.
Sietske de Fijter, an epidemiologist and chief of the bureau of infectious diseases with the Ohio Department of Health, said deaths of children from the flu are unfortunate, but not unusual.
“Flu is unpredictable in every season,” Fijter said.
Around 20 children in the U.S. have died during the current flu season.
This flu season does not appear to be any more severe than past ones. Through Friday, nearly 2,100 people statewide had been hospitalized for the flu, compared with 3,400 hospitalizations during the entire 2015-2016 flu season and nearly 9,400 during the 2014-2015 season.
Vins said the number of hospitalizations is higher in Columbiana County this season, but added, “We’re not at a point where we consider this to be an outbreak.”
Some parents have been keeping their children home from school, he said, but there have not been any reports of high absentee rates of students or teachers thus far. School in Columbiana County have been vigilant about cleaning surfaces daily to control the spread of the flu, he said, including the buildings the two boys attended.
“Those two schools have done everything they can,” Vins said.
Vins and Fijter both cautioned people to wash their hands frequently, to stay home from work or school if they are feeling ill and to see a doctor if they think they have the flu. They also said there is a plentiful supply of flu vaccine available throughout Ohio and urged anyone who has not gotten the vaccine to do so.