El Paso flu
A syringe was filled with flu vaccine at the San Vicente Clinic. (Times file photo)

A 12-year-old girl is the fourth El Pasoan to die from flu complications this flu season, city health officials said Wednesday.

"This child's death comes at a time when our staff continues to work diligently to track the current flu patterns and as we collectively work to prevent more cases. While it is difficult news to bear, it is also galvanizes our commitment to making a positive difference in our community," Bruce Parsons, city of El Paso interim public health director, said in a statement.

City health officials said the girl, who died last week, had a medical history that included other serious health conditions.

People with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop serious flu-related complications, said Fernando Gonzalez, epidemiologist with the El Paso Public Health Department.


Washington Valdez

Gonzalez said information about the latest death is incomplete because health officials still are investigating all four flu-related deaths reported in El Paso.

"The flu is preventable, and the vaccine is still the best way to avoid catching the flu," Gonzalez said. "It is especially important for vulnerable populations -- the young, the elderly and those with chronic diseases -- to get vaccinated against influenza."

From October through the third week of January, a total of 2,902 flu cases have been reported to the El Paso Public Health Department.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nine flu-related deaths of children in the week of Jan. 6 to 12, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths to 29 for the 2012-13 flu season.


CDC officials also reported 5,249 laboratory-confirmed flu-related hospitalizations across the nation since Oct. 1.

Last week, New Mexico health officials reported five flu-associated deaths in that state that involved adults ranging in age from 56 to 94.

"Influenza-associated hospitalization rates continue to be highest among people 65 and older," the CDC said. "Of the 5,249 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season, 49.6 percent have been among people 65 and older."

Gonzalez said the city Public Health Department is urging residents to get flu shots and practice other preventive measures, such as washing hands and staying home when sick.

"We are hoping that the flu season will peak soon," Gonzalez said. "But until it does, people still need to get all the protection that is available to them."

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6140.

Fight the flu
The El Paso Public Health Department recommends these tips to prevent spreading the flu:
  • Wash hands often. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Cover cough with tissue or crook of elbow.
  • Contain germs by avoiding others who are sick. If sick, stay home.
  • Call or see a doctor if you or a child have a fever higher than 100 degrees.
  • Flu vaccines are available at city Immunization Health Centers. The cost is $10 for children 6 months to 18 years who qualify, and $35 for everyone else. Call 771-5822 to check on availability.