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DHS: Two pediatric respiratory illness-associated deaths in state, including one in northeast Wisconsin

RSV 010920
Posted at 1:32 PM, Dec 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-22 14:45:13-05

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has confirmed a pair of pediatric deaths from respiratory illness.

One child is from northeast Wisconsin while the second is from southeast Wisconsin, according to a DHS spokesperson, who added they know other young children are hospitalized now.

The deaths are a result of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

“It is with great sadness that DHS reports the first death of a child from RSV in Wisconsin this season,” said DHS Respiratory Diseases Epidemiologist Tom Haupt. “Respiratory illness cases are on the rise throughout the state, and it is important to take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially before the holidays. Respiratory disease vaccines are safe and effective, and we urge all eligible Wisconsinites to get their shots as soon as possible. Taking steps to prevent respiratory illnesses helps keep us all healthy and can prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death during respiratory illness season.”

Influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 are circulating at significant levels in Wisconsin, with RSV activity increasing among children under 5 years old, and influenza sharply increasing in school-aged children, according to the DHS.

DHS encourages all Wisconsinites, especially children, older adults, and people who are pregnant, to get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses as soon as possible and follow good prevention practices, including washing your hands. In the press release, the DHS says respiratory illness vaccines are safe and effective and prevent or reduce symptoms of respiratory illness infections like COVID-19, flu, or RSV.

Individuals ages 60 and older, who are pregnant, and caregivers of children younger than 19 months should contact their health care provider to determine if RSV vaccination or preventive treatment is recommended for them, according to DHS. There are two options to protect children.

  • An RSV vaccine (Abrysvo) for pregnant people between 32 weeks and 36 weeks of pregnancy during RSV season. The vaccine provides antibodies for newborns until they are 6 months old.
  • A monoclonal antibody shot (nirsevimab) for children younger than 8 months and born during, or entering, the RSV season. Nirsevimab is also available for children between 8-19 months and entering their second season of RSV and who are at an increased risk of severe RSV disease.

It is important to know there is a shortage of the monoclonal antibody (nirsevimab) this season, but there is enough supply of the vaccine for pregnant people.
In addition to the RSV vaccine, DHS says they urge everyone six months and older to get the flu vaccine and updated COVID-19 vaccine. It is especially important for people who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill, such as those who are pregnant, age 65 and older, and those with chronic health conditions. By getting vaccinated, you help to protect yourself, your friends and family, and other people in you community.

Wisconsinites can find locations offering the flu and COVID-19 vaccine by visiting vaccines.gov or calling 211 or 877-947-2211.

DHS recommends taking the following steps can also help stop the spread of germs and increase your protection:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Stay home and away from others if you feel sick.
  • Avoid being around others who are sick or have respiratory illness symptoms.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and encourage children to do the same.
  • Wear a high-quality mask around others to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.

Up-to-date information about the current respiratory virus season can be found in the DHS Weekly Respiratory Report.