The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 39 US child flu deaths so far this flu season – the highest number on record in 16 seasons. Among these deaths was 16-year-old Kaylee Roberts, an Ohio resident whose sudden death from the flu occurred on December 31, 2020. On January 11, 2020, Luca Calanni, an 11-year-old from New York, died from the flu, despite having had a seasonal flu vaccination.
Still fighting his way back from the flu’s impact is John Chelcy, a 17-year-old from Georgia, who was rushed to the emergency room and placed in a medically induced coma for two days when he experienced renal failure from the flu. Chelcy also underwent dialysis to repair his kidneys. His hospital stay, much of it in the intensive care unit (ICU), lasted 15 days. While there, the teen developed pneumonia in his right lung.
There have been 9.7 million flu cases. And, as it turns out, some people may get the flu not once, but twice. Why is this year different?
The CDC breaks this season’s pediatric flu deaths into two categories:
- 28 deaths were associated with influenza B viruses. Five of these had the lineage determined and all were B/Victoria viruses.
- 11 deaths were associated with influenza A viruses. Six of these had subtyping performed and all were A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses.
Chelcy was hit by the influenza B strain of the flu, which hit “atypically early” this season, according to medical experts.
“There are four components in the vaccine, with two influenza A antigens and two influenza B antigens,” Richard J. Webby, Ph.D., a researcher with the Department of Infectious Disease at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, told PEOPLE magazine. “We’re having an early flu B season, and last year we almost saw two different flu seasons with four different strains. So if that happens again it may well be with a virus that’s better matched with the vaccine.”
Additionally, Webby told PEOPLE, even if it isn’t well matched, it’s important to get a flu shot, which will lessen symptoms. “It does reduce your chances of catching it, and if you do get sick, of getting very severely affected by the virus,” he said. “When we get vaccinated we make a lot of antibodies that will fight against the virus.”