Following the death of a Virginia teen from complications associated with influenza, the Virginia Department of Health is cautioning residents to be informed of the risks of contracting it.
This was the commonwealth's first pediatric death for the 2019-20 flu season, according to a Tuesday news release from the VDH.
A 16-year-old Leesburg girl died Friday shortly after being diagnosed with the flu.
Katie Giovanniello was a sophomore at Heritage High School in Leesburg before passing away from what her family believes were complications from the flu, according to media reports.
Heritage Principal Jeff Adam announced the death in a statement to the school community. “Katie passed away unexpectedly this morning. As many of you no doubt are, I am deeply saddened by this news,” he said Friday.
The school has counselors available to students, and several upcoming extracurricular activities have been canceled.
“She was so special that everyone loved her,” Colette Giovanniello, Katie’s mother, told NBC 4 in Washington on Monday. “No matter where you were, she became a part of your family.”
A GoFundMe page to help the family with funeral costs had raised more than $11,900 by Tuesday morning.
In the news release, State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver offered condolences and "deepest sympathies" for her family.
“Sadly, this is a tragic reminder that flu can be a serious illness, and we encourage everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and others.”
Flu has been widespread in Virginia since December. The VDH has investigated 61 flu outbreaks during the 2019-20 flu season through Feb. 1 and received reports of 773 pneumonia and influenza-associated deaths. On average, three flu-related pediatric deaths are reported each year in Virginia.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza has resulted in 22-31 million illnesses, 210,000-370,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-30,000 deaths in the U.S. so far this flu season,” the release states.
“Certain groups are at higher risk for serious illness from flu, including children younger than 5, pregnant women, people aged 65 and older, and those with suppressed immune systems or certain chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease.”
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to protect against flu, Oliver states in the release.
“Even at this time of year, if you haven’t had the flu shot, you should make an appointment and get it,” he said. “There is still time to protect yourself and your loved ones this flu season.”
Flu activity in Virginia typically peaks between December and February but can remain elevated into the spring.
To prevent the flu, VDH recommends:
• Getting vaccinated every year
• Practicing good public health with hand hygiene (washing your hands regularly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer), respiratory etiquette (coughing and sneezing into a tissue or the inside of your elbow rather than your open hand), and staying home when you feel sick
• Taking antivirals as prescribed if you do become sick with the flu.
To locate a seasonal flu vaccine clinic near you, visit vdh.virginia.gov or contact your local health department. For more information on flu in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/influenza-flu-in-virginia.