It’s hard to forget the face of six-year-old Taylor Marie Puckett who died of the flu in December. Harder to forget her parent’s heartbreak.
"And then I touched her cheek and it was cold, and I started shaking her and she wouldn’t move," says Jessica Puckett through tears as she recalls the worst day of her life.
The CDC acting director Dr. Anne Schuchat says they’re not alone, "There have been far too many heart-wrenching stories in recent weeks about families who’ve lost loved ones to influenza and unfortunately, this week’s report reveals more somber news," adding that 10 more children died of the flu this week bringing the total to 63 since flu season stared in October.
Here in Riverside County, deaths have nearly doubled, bringing the deaths of people under the age of 64 who’ve died of flu related illness to 20.
The CDC says we are only in week 11 of the flu and usually lasts 20 weeks, and the worst could still be yet to come, "Flu is incredibly difficult to predict and we don’t know if we’ve hit the peak yet … so we could potentially see several more weeks of increased flu activity."
Many have questioned the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, but the CDC says it’s not too late to get a flu shot, even if you’ve already had the flu and while it’s not 100 percent, some protection is better than none, especially since they’re starting to see a wave of Influenza B, more effective in this vaccine.
"Because of the ongoing intensity of the flu season and the increase in circulation of Influenza B and H1N1, we do continue to recommend vaccinations, even this late in the season," adding that you can get sick more than once with a different strain of flu.
The CDC also recommends another important vaccine that can protect you against getting a severe And they recommend another important vaccine that can protect you against getting a severe secondary infection: pneumonia.
"I also want to reiterate the importance of the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. Flu can make people more vulnerable to secondary infections like bacterial pneumonia, so we recommend people 65 and over get the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. Most children have already been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease from shots they got when they were infants or toddlers. While we need to get flu vaccines every year because the viruses keep changing, the pneumococcal vaccines are more long-lasting," says Schuchat.
And simple rules can not only keep you from getting sick but also prevent the spread of the virus that is killing so many.
"You also can help reduce the spread of flu through simple good health habits, like staying away from people who are sick, frequently washing your hands and covering your cough and sneeze," says Schuchat who stressed staying home if you’re sick, "For those who are already sick, please stay home from work or school. That is such an important recommendation to follow. Otherwise you run the risk of spreading the virus to others – and what may be mild symptoms to you could be deadly to someone else."
That’s the message Taylor Marie’s parents have been advocating since her death, "I see people sending their kids to school sick, because they can’t afford to stay home and because of that people like us are losing our children," says Jessica.