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At least three children in Hamilton County have died due to influenza so far this flu season, according to data from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

Two of those deaths occurred in 2019, and the most recent death occurred in February.

The latest report from the health department, which was released on Feb. 8, showed a surge in emergency department visits for influenza-like illness — defined as fever greater than 100 degrees with cough and/or sore throat in the absence of another known cause. Student absences in Hamilton County's public schools have increased every week in 2020, according to health department data.

As of last week, 105 influenza-associated deaths in children in the United States have been reported so far this flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Compared to recent seasons, overall hospitalization rates are average but higher among children and young adults at this time, according to the CDC.

Public health officials recommend that those who haven't yet received a flu shot this season get one ASAP, because flu virus activity can continue into May. Vaccination is especially important for pregnant women and individuals who are more likely to die from the flu, such as children, older adults and people with chronic conditions.

Flu prevention tips

The most effective way to prevent flu is to get the annual influenza vaccine. Other preventive measures include:

Wash hands often with soap and warm water.

Avoid people who are sick.

If you become sick, seek medical care, take prescribed medications and remain at home.

Cover your cough or sneeze and throw away used tissues.

Keep your immune system healthy by quitting tobacco, eating healthy, being active and getting quality sleep.

Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department

Individuals with flu symptoms — fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion — should seek medical care and stay home to avoid spreading the virus to others. A health care provider can test for the flu virus and prescribe antiviral medicine if appropriate to shorten the duration of illness.

Dr. Paul Hendricks, Hamilton County health officer, said in January that although the flu is a potentially deadly illness, it's also preventable and manageable.

"Yes, we're still in the flu season, and you should still get your flu shot as soon as possible for everyone over the age of 6 months," Hendricks said. "We still have free vaccines available at the health department regardless of insurance status."

The CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 29 million flu illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths from flu worldwide.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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