INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time this flu season, a child has died from the flu.

The Indiana Department of Health said as of the week ending December 3, Indiana has recorded 24 influenza deaths for the season. When the state releases its next report, the department said the state will report its first pediatric flu death.

On Monday, the department put out a call for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The call comes as Indiana sees high levels of flu transmission that is significantly impacting hospitals statewide.

Nationwide, the CDC says the hospitalization rate is higher than the rate seen at the same time during every previous flu season since 2010-2011. In Indiana, Indiana Hospital Association President Brian Tabor says if cases continue at this pace, the state could meet or exceed the record levels of inpatient capacity it saw during the peak of COVID-19.

Health leaders are also urging people to seek routine testing for respiratory illnesses or care for mild symptoms through urgent care centers or a family physician’s office rather than through an emergency department whenever possible.

“Our hospitals are dealing with the triple impact of influenza, RSV and COVID-19 right now, along with normal emergencies and illnesses, and we want to keep emergency rooms clear for Hoosiers who urgently need them,” said State Health Commissioner Kris Box.

The CDC is also urging people to wear face masks indoors again. As the Christmas and New Year’s holidays approach, when families are expected to gather across the country, health officials fear that could put a significant strain on our healthcare system if people don’t take the proper precautions.

“Our immune system has not been revved up. The vaccine rates are lower. We are a prime sitting target for other respiratory illnesses as we relax our guard down and begin to have contact with other people,” said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in infectious diseases at Northwell Health.

The department says that although anyone can get the flu, some people are at higher risk of flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. This includes pregnant women, young children, people with chronic illnesses, people who are immunocompromised, and the elderly.

Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • fever of 100° Fahrenheit or greater
  • headache 
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat 
  • runny or stuffy nose

People can help prevent the spread of the flu by washing their hands frequently and thoroughly, avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth with their hands, and staying home when sick. The department said people should practice the “Three Cs” to help prevent the spread of flu and other infectious diseases:

  • Clean: Properly wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water.
  • Cover: Cover your cough and sneeze with your arm or a disposable tissue.
  • Contain: Stay home from school or work when you are sick to keep your germs from spreading.