BILLINGS - A fourth-grade student at St. Francis Catholic School died of influenza Tuesday, the first reported pediatric flu death in Montana, RiverStone Health announced Wednesday.
The girl had fallen ill Sunday and died three days later.
In Yellowstone County, there have been 649 reported flu cases, 131 hospitalizations and four deaths, including this most recent, according to RiverStone. The last pediatric deaths in Montana from the flu occurred in 2015-2016, when two children died.
In Montana, influenza has declined in recent weeks but remains a problem in an overall busy season. The state has seen 6,500 cases, 674 hospitalizations and 33 deaths.
Billings Catholic Schools Superintendent Shaun Harrington sent a letter to parents on Tuesday informing the school community of the student’s passing.
Grief counselors and parish priests have been at the school today to talk to students and staff.
In a media statement, Harrington said the student missed class last Wednesday for non-medical reasons, and classes weren't held Thursday or Friday. He also noted that custodial staff follows disinfecting protocol as normal procedure, and teachers always have Clorox wipes and other cleaning materials to protect against germs.
The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services says that influenza is a respiratory illness with symptoms that may include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Influenza affects millions across the United States each year. In Montana, the flu season usually peaks in January and lasts through May; however, flu outbreaks can be unpredictable. The influenza vaccine is the best form of prevention against the flu and provides protection throughout the entire flu season, according to public health officials.
Influenza vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctor visits, missed work or school, but also can prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. During the 2016-2017 flu season, DPHHS recorded 829 hospitalizations and 56 deaths related to influenza.
“The influenza vaccine protects against multiple strains of flu,” said Stacey Anderson of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology section. “Even if the vaccine may not prevent every case of influenza, the evidence shows that getting a flu shot still can prevent severe illness and hospitalization. The vaccine also provides protection against other strains that circulate during the season.”
Anderson also states that getting the vaccine not only helps the individual, but can help keep others healthy as well. “Everyone is at risk for complications of the flu,” she said. “It’s not too late to get vaccinated, and the vaccine will help not only you, but protect those around you as well.”
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, public health officials recommend the following, especially during the holiday travel season:
More information can be found at the DPHHS website: www.flu.mt.gov