HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Department of Health is urging residents to get their flu shot after the first pediatric influenza death of the season.

Officials said it is the first death of its kind in over three years.

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The DOH said the last child to die due to influenza in Hawaii was in January, 2020. That changed on Friday, Feb. 10 in what the Disease Investigation Branch chief called a sober reminder that flu is circulating locally.

“I will say, it’s, you know, the death of any child in Hawaii is, is an absolute tragedy,” said Caroline Pratt, DOH Disease Investigation Branch chief.

“It’s been a while, partly because we had measures to prevent COVID in place, those same measures, wearing a mask, washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick, those all work for flu as well.”

Flu shots are not silver bullets, but officials say they can be life-savers for those in high-risk groups.

“We all know any vaccine is not perfect. But it would hopefully give milder symptoms that would be easier to manage at home,” Pratt said. “Especially we want to protect people who are more, the people who are more vulnerable for severe illness, infants and kupuna,”

KHON2 asked Pratt about her response to folks who have not received a flu shot in years and do not feel the need to get one.

“Yeah, the response is anybody is still at risk for it,” Pratt said. “I’ve had the flu, it’s, it is a serious illness. You do feel really bad when you have the flu and it’s not just 24 hours and it’s over.”

“Just because you didn’t get it in the past doesn’t mean you’re not at risk in the future.”

Caroline Pratt, DOH Disease Investigation Branch chief

The DOH said Hawaii’s flu season traditionally runs through March, and it is not too late for locals to get a flu shot because of Hawaii’s unique location.

“We do get influenced by the flu season on the mainland and from other countries, so we do kind of have a base layer of flu throughout the year, so it’s not too late in general and we are still in the flu season,” Pratt said.

Pratt said apart from the most recent death, only six pediatric flu fatalities were recorded in Hawaii since 2013. Just over 50% of children in Hawaii have received a flu shot as of Friday, even though children as young as six months old are eligible.

According to HDOH, many respiratory viruses are circling around Hawaii this winter including COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus infection.

Officials said symptoms are similar, but you can’t tell them apart without a test.

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