CHICAGO (CBS) -- A 10-year-old boy from the northwest suburbs died of complications from the flu on New Year's Eve.
Johnny Towler was in the 4th grade at Grove Avenue Elementary School in northwest suburban Barrington.
The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said Johnny was being treated at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge on New Year's Eve, when he was pronounced dead at 4:52 a.m.
School officials said Johnny died from a viral infection that attacked his heart, a rare complication of the flu.
Dr. John H Beckerman, a Barrington pediatrician, did not treat Johnny, but explained what might have happened.
"In this case, I think I may have been heard about this, I think it may have been myocarditis, which is where the flu virus can cause an inflammation of heart muscle; and that can be serious or, as in this case, fatal," he said. "As sometimes happens different years, sometimes even people who've gotten the influenza vaccine still can come down with flu. The good news is those people tend not to be as sick as people who didn't get the flu shot."
Beckerman said he has had an increase in flu cases at his office in the past few weeks.
"Every year flu season is a concern," Jennifer Layden, Chief Medical Officer, State Epidemiologist, Illiniois Department of Public Health, told WBBM Newsradio. "The flu season's peak is earlier and it's effecting everyone."
Layden said there are three preventive measures parents should live by.
"One is if the children are sick, parents should keep them out of school. Two, to cover. By that, we mean that when children sneeze or cough, they need to cover the sneeze and cough to prevent the transmission. And three is to clean. We recommend that you wash you hands regularly and clean surfaces that may come in contact, or may have been exposed to anyone who has coughed."
Layden said this year's H3N2 strain is similar to last year's, but the number one thing to prevent getting it is to get the vaccine.
"Right now the CDC is estimating that the vaccine effectiveness is at about 32 percent while it's not 100 percent it is still effective for a significant proportion of the population. Even if you get the flu, with a vaccine, it's more mild, you're less likely to go to the hospital and you're contagious for a less amount of time. It's not too late to get the vaccine for this season," Layden said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 13 children nationwide have died from the flu so far this season.
Grief counselors were on hand at Grove Elementary and at Barrington High School, where Johnny's older sister is a junior, as students returned from winter break this week.
"It is with great sadness that I share with you news of the passing of Barrington 220 student Johnny Towler. Johnny was a fourth grade student at Grove Elementary. His older sister, Miranda Towler, is a junior at BHS. Beginning on Tuesday, we will have a team of counselors on hand at BHS, for any students or staff needing support," District 220 said in a statement.
"We understand Johnny's family and many of his friends and their families will have difficulty coping with this sudden loss," Barrington School District officials said in an email to parents over the weekend.
One mother at Grove said she spoke to her 3rd grade daughter about how to cope with the grief.
"It's really difficult. You want to reassure your kid that they're going to be okay, but also that it's okay to be really sad that something really sad and really scary happened that doesn't make sense to anybody. It's out of order. Kids aren't supposed to get sick and die," Jackie Zagrans said.
Flu cases have skyrocketed in the Chicago area over the past few weeks, with more than 100 since Christmas, compared to 46 from Oct. 21 through Christmas Eve.
Public health officials recommend getting a flu vaccine if you have not done so already. Doctors also recommended following the three Cs to prevent the spread of flu – clean, cover, and contain; meaning frequently cleaning your hands, covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and contain the flu by staying home if you're sick.
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