BENTON — The death of a 6-year-old girl from Benton is the first pediatric flu fatality in Maine since 2010.

“My heart goes out to the family, the community and the school that has suffered this tragic loss,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control.

In a health alert released Tuesday, Pinette said there have been a steadily increasing number of influenza cases in November and December, with 13 outbreaks recorded so far. Some of the cases have resulted in hospitalization, which Pinette said is an indicator of the severity of the illness this season.

Pinette urged all Maine residents to get flu vaccinations this year.

“It is very rare for a child that’s healthy to die from the flu, but this is a reminder,” Pinette said.

The girl, Avery Lane, a first-grade student at Benton Elementary School, died last week. Her grandmother, Pam Souzer, called Avery “very kind, very loving.”

“Like the children you’ve seen in the Connecticut shooting, she was a wonderful little girl,” Souzer said.

The death of Avery, who has five siblings, sent waves of shock throughout the school community. Principal Suanne Giorgetti sent a letter to parents Dec. 12 that said the school had “experienced the unthinkable.”

The death is a reminder that influenza is a health concern for people of all ages.

“Flu is often seen as a disease that takes the life of the elderly and frail, but children are also vulnerable,” said Pinette in a prepared statement.

Pinette said it is the first flu death in the state since 2010, when a child died of the flu and other complicating factors.

Pinette said parents are often faced with a judgment call when trying to figure out whether their sick child has a simple cold or the flu.

She said the symptoms of flue are more severe than a cold, and often include upper respiratory congestion, headaches, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, fatigue and fever higher than 100. The flu can also accompany another diagnosis, such as strep throat, she said.

“If they have a fever not responding to Tylenol or Advil and they can’t get out of bed, they should at least give their primary doctor a call,” Pinette said.

The best defense against the flu, Pinette said, is taking preventive measures to control the spread of infectious agents.

The most important step, she said, is that everyone aged six months or older be vaccinated against the flu.

She also said people should wash their hands, cover coughs with tissues or sleeves and stay home when sick.

Two flu strains, influenza A/H3 and influenza B, have been confirmed in the state so far this year. According to the center, the vaccine appears to be a good match to those strains, which can make vaccination more effective.

Nationwide, there have been six flu-associated child deaths so far this year, according to the national Centers for Disease Control.

Statistics show that last year, 34 child deaths were reported nationwide, the lowest total in years. In the 2010-11 season, 122 child deaths were reported, while in the 2009-10 season, 282 child deaths were reported.

 

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
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