A 12-year-old Blount County girl died of the flu Monday — making her one of four children to die of the illness in Tennessee this flu season.
Paloma Olivia Harris was described in her obituary slated for publication today as “a beautiful girl with so much love to give.”
“Just one encounter with her you would remember her for life,” it said. “(Harris) had such a bright future with endless opportunities. She will continue to stay with us all through memories of her sly smile, humor and dance moves.”
The obituary confirmed Harris died of the flu Monday night at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. A spokesman from Blount County Schools confirmed that a student from Carpenters Middle School had died but would not identify the student.
Mike Crabtree, assistant director of curriculum and instruction for BCS, said the schools are taking precautions to protect children from the flu.
“We are taking as many precautions about keeping things sanitized and keeping kids and their parents informed,” he said.
David Murrell, assistant director of operations for BCS, said there is no defined criteria for when to close schools due to illness, but the district looks at staffing and student levels.
Districtwide, BCS reported a student absence rate of just under 7% Wednesday.
A low rate of school absences could imply a large amount of healthy children; however, Shelley Walker, assistant director of communications for the Tennessee Health Department, said sometimes people may not know when they have the flu.
“(The) flu is unfortunately so common,” she said. “A lot of people who get the flu don’t ever go to a health care provider.”
Doctors are not required to report flu cases to the health department, Walker said, but many do so voluntarily.
“We have roughly 60 health care providers across the state who volunteer every week to report to us any cases of (the) flu or flu-like illness that they see among their patients,” she said.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a more detailed count of flu cases.
As of Jan. 4, Tennessee had 45,292 confirmed cases of the flu, according to CDC data. Some 860 of these cases were diagnosed at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, said Erica Estep, public relations manager for the hospital.
Robert Schmidt, director of the Blount County Health Department, said in an email that there is no specific information regarding the flu in Blount County but that East Tennessee is reporting a “lower percentage of influenza-like illness than the state as a whole.”
“But again, we’re seeing high levels of seasonal flu statewide,” he said. “So anyone who hasn’t yet had a flu shot this flu season should get one.”
Schmidt also said free flu shots are available daily at the Blount County Health Department.
Walker added that doctors are not required to do blood work, which would confirm the illness, in order to prescribe someone flu medication.
She also said the deadliness of the flu often is overlooked because only deaths of children and pregnant women are reported to the CDC.
“Pediatric deaths are nationally notifiable and required to be submitted to the CDC,” Walker said. “In Tennessee, we decided to make flu deaths in pregnant women reportable after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.”
During the 2018-19 flu season, a single death was reported. However, during the 2017-18 season, 11 deaths were reported, according to CDC data.
As for this flu season, a total of four flu deaths have occurred in Tennessee — all of them pediatric.
“Between one and five is average,” Walker said. “But every flu season is different.”