SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Department of Health officials said the state is seeing near record levels of flu this year and is investigating several deaths related to the virus.
Two children in Weber County who were diagnosed with the flu died last weekend. Both were cadets at the same charter school: the Utah Military Academy in Riverdale.
The students have been identified as Braxton Graham, an eighth grade student, and Jaime Navarro, an eleventh grade student.
Health officials are investigating the deaths and said both Graham and Navarro tested positive for influenza, but each had a different strain.
“It is certainly unusual and something we are really working with the school and the community to understand,” said Keegan McCaffrey, an influenza epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health. “We see between two and six pediatric deaths in Utah each year from the flu, so it is good news that they were different strains of the flu. But it is still really tragic and something we are investigating.”
McCaffrey said that although it is unusual to have two deaths at the same school, health department officials did not believe anything unusual happened at school or in the community.
Meanwhile, another death in Pleasant Grove was attributed to the flu.
Jesús Hernández, 40, was a father of four apparently healthy children.
“He is really a strong person,” said his wife Kimberly. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
Hernandez contracted the flu on January 12. His wife and four children also contracted her, but Hernandez did not recover.
“He woke me up at two o’clock on Sunday morning and said,” I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, “Kimberly said, crying.” I took him to the hospital. “
Hernandez died later that day; he and his whole family were diagnosed with Influenza A.
Health officials said the virus is rampant in Utah right now.
“The two main strains we are seeing at the moment are Influenza B, that is, about 60% of the flu tests reported to the Department of Health,” McCaffrey said. “The other 40% are Influenza A H1N1.”
More than 400 Utahns have been hospitalized with the flu this year and experts say that is quite normal. But what was not normal was the large number of people who had it.
“Influenza activity is high in both Utah and across the country,” McCaffrey said. “Especially at the beginning of January, we are seeing near record levels of flu activity.”
The Hernandez family said they are still in shock and that Jesus’ death still does not seem real.
They hope that no one else has to know how it feels to lose a loved one to the flu.
“I just want people to be aware,” Kimberly said. “I never thought this was going to happen and honestly it just hit my whole family.”
Health experts said it’s not too late to get a flu shot and asked anyone who gets sick to stay home from work and school.
If you want to help the Hernández family, a GoFundMe * page has been created for donations.
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