The first pediatric death in Michigan from influenza this flu season has been reported, health officials said Tuesday.
The Oakland County Health Division did not identify the child. But local mother Melody Arabo said her son, Ashton Arabo, 6, of West Bloomfield died Jan. 25 after complications from the flu.
Ashton was a kindergartner in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District.
“No one would ever expect a simple flu virus to completely change your life,” Melody Arabo wrote on a GoFundMe page for a foundation her family created in her son’s honor. “But while struggling through this terrible illness, we were overwhelmed by the incredible outpouring of prayers, messages and acts of kindness from thousands of people all across Michigan, around the country and even many parts of the world.
“Ashton taught us so much in his short life, but this final lesson was his greatest,” said Arabo, a third-grade teacher in the district and 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year. “As a way to pay it forward, we have created Ashton’s Miracle Foundation so that we can spread acts of kindness in his honor day after day and year after year.”
The foundation has raised more than $50,000 in two weeks. The donations have “stretched beyond our wildest expectations,” Arabo said Tuesday night.
“My heart goes out to the family,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a statement Tuesday. “This tragedy reminds us that influenza can be a very serious illness, especially in young children.”
This year’s flu season has been relatively mild, said Jennifer Eisner, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The state agency tracks only pediatric flu deaths. More recently, there has been an increase in reported flu cases in southeast Michigan, typical for February, Eisner said. The flu season can last until April.
The flu vaccine this year closely matches the H1N1 virus, which has been seen in 75 percent of reported flu cases, Eisner said.
“That means people will have good protection against the virus circulating,” she said.
The Oakland County Health Division recommends that everyone older than 6 months receive a flu vaccine. Children younger than 5, older adults, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk of flu complications.
“It’s never too late to get a flu vaccine,” George Miller, director of Oakland County Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday. “Really, the flu season is ramping up right now in the state of Michigan and now Oakland County.”
The season started in October.
Miller said the vaccine not only protects individuals, but others around them.
“You can help prevent the flu by washing your hands, covering your cough and staying home when sick,” he said.
According to the health department, the flu virus can be spread from as far as six feet away, “mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.”
It is also possible to spread the flu by touching a surface with the flu virus on it and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth.
One should wash their hands often with soap and water and if those are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.