ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A public school student in Elizabeth, New Jersey has died, and the school district said the cause was flu-related symptoms.
If the flu is confirmed by health officials to be the cause, the child will be the third pediatric flu victim to die in New Jersey this season.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, Elizabeth Schools Supt. Olga Hugelmeyer announced in a letter late Sunday that the school district had “lost one of its own.” No information on the student’s age or gender was released.
Hugelmeyer’s letter said it had been confirmed that the student had been diagnosed with influenza, but it was not known late Sunday whether the flu was “the primary contributing factor” for the child’s death. But School District spokesman Pat Politano later said the child did die due to flu-related symptoms.
The New Jersey Department of Health said late Sunday that it was “investigating for possible cause of a Union County child’s untimely death.”
One Elizabeth parent said such a death is what parents have been fearing throughout this flu season.
“It’s scary, you know, my heart breaks for this family. Losing a child, I mean, is unimaginable, but you know, I think that we need to protect the kids that are now in our school district – like I said, not only the children, but the staff,” said Christina Moreira.
As of Jan. 30, there had been 16 students and faculty members in Elizabeth who had existed flu-like symptoms – actually only half the number from last year, school officials said. There has not been an increase and absences due to sickness.
The letter reminded parents that the flu has been widespread this winter season and urged everyone to take appropriate precautions. The letter noted that all adults are advised to get an annual flu shot, and anyone experiencing signs and symptoms of the flu is advised to see a doctor.
Elizabeth schools also have a policy of excluding students with a fever of more than 100 degrees until they have been symptom-free for 48 hours without a fever-reducing medication, and the schools also disinfect all “touch point” surfaces such as door knobs, railings and student desks daily, the letter said.
The school district spokesman said due to the investigation and privacy laws, the district cannot reveal the child’s age, gender, or even which school the child attended. It was not clear whether the child had been vaccinated for the flu.
In New Jersey, the flu shot is mandated for preschool and day care only.
Elizabeth schools are closed Monday for the Presidents Day holiday, but are scheduled to be back in session Tuesday. Grief counselors will be available for students and faculty.
Two children have been confirmed previously to have died from the flu in New Jersey this season.
Most recently, Nevaeh Hernandez of North Bergen was the second New Jersey child to die from the flu amid the epidemic this season. Nevaeh became ill over the weekend and her condition quickly deteriorated.
Nevaeh had gotten a flu shot, had no underlying conditions and still succumbed to the illness, her family said.
According to Louis Zayas, the attorney for the Hernandez family, on Feb. 10 Nevaeh began suffering headaches and went home from school. Later that evening, after developing a fever, the family took the girl to the hospital, where she was discharged after medical staff reported not seeing any signs of influenza, Zayas claimed.
The following day, Nevaeh’s fever returned and hit a temperature of 105 degrees, prompting her parents have her taken by ambulance to another hospital, Zayas said. Doctors there diagnosed her with having the H1N1 strain of the flu and attempted to treat her for fever and four seizures. Within 48 hours, she had died.
New Jersey Health officials last month said a 4-year-old girl in was the state’s first flu-related death this season.
Meanwhile late Sunday, CBS2 has learned that a child from Norwalk, Connecticut has also died from flu-like symptoms. CBS affiliate WFSB-TV, Hartford reported the girl attended Columbus Magnet School in Norwalk and died unexpectedly Saturday.
The station reported the 6-year-old Connecticut girl died from “complications due to the flu.”