SALT LAKE CITY — Officials with the Utah Department of Health said the state is seeing near-record levels of the flu this year and they’re investigating several deaths connected to the virus.
Two boys in Weber County who were diagnosed with the flu both 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 grader, and Jaime Navarro, an 11th grader.
Health officials are investigating the deaths and said both Graham and Navarro tested positive for influenza, but each had a different strain.
“It’s certainly unusual and something that we’re really working with the school and the community to understand,” said Keegan McCaffrey, an influenza epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. “We see between two to six pediatric deaths in Utah every year of the flu, and so it’s good news that they were different strains of the flu. But it’s still really tragic and something that we’re looking into.”
McCaffrey said while it is unusual to have two deaths from the same school, health department officials did not believe there’s anything unusual going on at the school or in the community.
Meanwhile, another death in Pleasant Grove was being blamed on the flu.
Jesus Hernandez, 40, was a seemingly healthy father of four.
“He’s just really a strong person,” said his wife Kimberly. “I’ve never seen him down like that.”
Hernandez came down with the flu on Jan. 12. His wife and four kids all got it too, but Hernandez didn’t recover.
“He woke me up at two o’clock in the morning on Sunday and he said, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” Kimberly said, in tears. “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’re seeing right now are Influenza B — that’s about 60% of 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 said that’s pretty normal. But what wasn’t normal was the sheer number of people getting it.
“Influenza activity is high both here in Utah and across the country,” McCaffrey said. “Especially early January, we’re seeing close to record levels of flu activity.”
The Hernandez family said they’re still in shock and Jesus’s death doesn’t seem real quite yet.
They hope 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 it honestly just hit my whole family.”
Health experts said it’s not too late to get a flu shot and asked anyone who does get sick to stay home from work and school.
If you’d like to help the Hernandez family, a GoFundMe page* has been set up for donations.
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