Hawai'i braces for flu after first child death of the season

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii residents are bracing for the flu, as word spreads of the first child flu death this season.

"That's the scariest. That's a parent's worst nightmare—to have something that used to be so minor to turn into something that's so serious," said Rachel Larson, who recently had her infant daughter vaccinated.

Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo says adults have also died this flu season, but the exact number is unknown because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only requires children's deaths be reported, like the 4-year-old girl who died in Honolulu over the weekend. According to the CDC, 29 children have died from flu complications on the mainland where influenza infections are widespread.

"We're not seeing overflowing clinics and doctor's offices here, yet—and hopefully never," said Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist.  "Right now what we are hearing is yes, there's disease – there is flu disease sporadically around the state, but it's at a low level compared with what we're definitely hearing on the mainland."

Experts say battling the flu is complicated because vaccines can't target the entire pathogen, only strains of the disease—and on top of that, every individual responds to it differently.

Local health officials say you have zero chance of fighting the flu without a vaccination, but if you do get vaccinated there's only about a 40% possibility you'll still get it – and even then, they say symptoms aren't likely to be as severe.

"The more your population gets vaccinated the more they act as a shield for everyone else who don't have an immune response or didn't get vaccinated," said Dr. Park.

"We've seen a great demand in the flu shot this season—especially with all of the news nationwide about all the flu cases throughout the country," said Gretel Tomita, a local pharmacist at Target.

Meegan Driftmier made sure both her kids were vaccinated, even though she hasn't been yet, explaining – "The higher risk for children and elderly, so I just go with doctor's recommendation on that."

But health officials say the vaccine alone isn't enough to protect you.

"Don't just sit back and relax just because you've been vaccinated. Make sure you wash your hands. If you see someone is sick, if you're sick yourself—keep your germs to yourself, tell them to keep their germs to themselves. Stay home."

The Hawaii Department of Health has a complete list of pharmacies that administer flu shots on their website at: www.flu.hawaii.gov – just click on the "Vaccine Locator". Health officials say the website is a great resource for anyone looking for more information on the flu.

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