Massachusetts boy, 12, dies of flu-related illness, officials say

Massachusetts health officials have confirmed the state’s first pediatric flu death of the season, with others identifying the victim as 12-year-old Aaron Zenus, a seventh-grade middle school student in Milford.

“It is a sad situation,” Michael Walsh, chairman of Milford’s Board of Selectmen, told the Milford Daily News. “The doctors and nurses did everything they could. To the family, the Milford community sends our sincerest prayers and wishes for you.”

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According to Walsh, Zenus had been in the hospital for four days prior to his death on Wednesday.

An email sent by school Superintendent Kevin McIntyre to school and town officials confirmed the death on Thursday, and said that counselors and resources would be made available to students.

The state’s health department reported high, widespread flu activity in its weekly influenza update dated Jan. 25. It had a reported 5,693 confirmed cases of the virus so far this season, an increase of over 2,000 for this time last year.

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The virus temporarily shuttered schools in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennesee, Minnesota, Michigan and other states, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports widespread flu activity in at least 36 states, noting that school-aged children are a group with high rates of flu illness. As of Jan. 19, the CDC had confirmed 22 pediatric “influenza-associated” deaths.

The CDC said between 6 million and 7 million people had already been sickened by the virus by early January, and stressed that the first line of defense is the flu vaccine. While some patients who contract the flu may have received the vaccine, health officials say that it can help lessen the severity of the illness. The virus typically causes fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.

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Those most at risk for severe illness or complications include patients 65 and older, people with chronic medical issues, pregnant women and children under 5.