CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources says a West Virginia child has died in connection to the flu.

The DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health confirms this is the first influenza-associated pediatric death in the 2022-2023 flu season. The DHHR says no further details, including the child’s name, age, gender, hometown or county will be released out of respect for the family’s privacy.

“The loss of a child is profound,” said Dr. Ayne Amjad, acting State Health Officer and Commissioner of the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “While most individuals recover from the flu, it can be a serious and life-threatening illness in both children and adults, especially those with existing health conditions and compromised immunity. We extend our deepest sympathies to this family.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported across the country during the 2022-2023 flu season at this time.

Adult flu deaths are not considered a reportable condition in West Virginia, according to the DHHR, however, influenza-associated deaths of children under the age of 18 must be reported to the local health department within a week, and the health department then must report the death to the DHHR within a week.

West Virginia health officials say children under 5-years-old, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to the flu and its complications.

Health officials say the Mountain State is experiencing an early flu season and urge West Virginians to get a flu vaccine to protect those who are more susceptible, especially infants under the age of six months who cannot receive a flu vaccine.

“Now is the ideal time to get your flu shot, as West Virginia is experiencing a historically early start to the flu season,” said State Epidemiologist Shannon McBee. “The flu vaccine is the first line of defense to protect yourself and people around you who are vulnerable to the serious effects of the flu. We urge all West Virginians six months of age and older to get vaccinated against the flu.”

McBee says the state has seen a decrease in flu vaccinations since the pandemic, which could be a concern amid circulating COVID-19 and RSV cases.

“For the past two consecutive years, flu vaccine rates in West Virginia have been lower than they were before the pandemic,” McBee said. “Despite seeing more flu cases in our state and the nation, we are concerned about the lack of an uptick in vaccine rates. Additionally, RSV and COVID cases continue to circulate, which could further overwhelm our hospital system.”

Additional precautions health officials say people can take to help prevent the flu and other viruses from spreading include staying home when you’re sick until you have been without a fever for at least 24 hours, covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throwing the tissue away, and washing your hands frequently with soap and water.