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Kelvin staff, students grieve Grade 12 student's death from flu complications

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/1/2020 (282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kelvin High School was offering counselling services to staff and students Tuesday, following the death of a 17-year-old boy who developed complications from the flu.

In a letter sent home with classmates Monday, principal Maria Silva said the Crescentwood-area school was informed that Blaine Ruppenthal had died of "complications due to influenza."

Blaine Ruppenthal, 17, died of complications due to influenza. (Facebook photo)

Blaine Ruppenthal, 17, died of complications due to influenza. (Facebook photo)

"We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of his passing," Silva wrote.

"It is hoped that by providing a supportive place for expressions of grief, the students and staff will be able to understand and cope with the loss."

Silva added that a school crisis response plan has been activated, meaning trained professionals will visit all of Ruppenthal’s classes and a counselling centre has been set up for students.

After he suffered cardiac arrest on Dec. 7, Ruppenthal’s family started a Prayers for Blaine Ruppenthal page on Facebook. In a post there, a relative wrote that the teen was rushed to the hospital, where he was put into an induced coma and received hypothermic therapy; doctors concluded the illness was Influenza A.

Family members continuously shared updates on his fragile condition, until people began posting condolence messages Monday.

"Blaine was genuinely one of the sweetest people in the school. Not only was he unbelievably kind, but he cared so much about his friends," said Chaya Tabac, a 17-year-old classmate and friend of Ruppenthal's since middle school.

“With something like the flu, we’re completely unprepared to have somebody in the school age to be affected by death and so it comes as a complete shock." –Radean Carter, Winnipeg School Division

Outside school, Ruppenthal was an active member of the 176 Canadian Air Cadets in Winnipeg.

Enhanced support services for staff and students who are grieving Ruppenthal's loss will remain in place as long as there’s demand, said Radean Carter, a senior information officer with the Winnipeg School Division.

"Blaine was genuinely one of the sweetest people in the school. Not only was he unbelievably kind, but he cared so much about his friends," said classmate Chaya Tabac. (Facebook)

"Blaine was genuinely one of the sweetest people in the school. Not only was he unbelievably kind, but he cared so much about his friends," said classmate Chaya Tabac. (Facebook)

"With something like the flu, we’re completely unprepared to have somebody in the school age to be affected by death and so it comes as a complete shock," Carter said. "We are so sad for the family that is having to live through this and the students, his friends.

"It’s terrible."

The division doesn’t offer flu vaccines in its schools since community members can get shots free of charge at doctors' offices and pharmacies across the city. Carter said staff follow and promote public health practices — including reminding people to wash their hands thoroughly in order to prevent the spread of the flu.

Flu death 'rare in young, healthy individuals'

It's rare but not unheard for an otherwise healthy young person to die of the flu, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer says.

Dr. Brent Roussin said those most at risk of "severe outcomes" from influenza tend to be the very young (under five), the very old, pregnant women, and those with chronic underlying medical conditions.

It's rare but not unheard for an otherwise healthy young person to die of the flu, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer says.

Dr. Brent Roussin said those most at risk of "severe outcomes" from influenza tend to be the very young (under five), the very old, pregnant women, and those with chronic underlying medical conditions.

"It's rare in young, healthy individuals to have severe outcomes. It's certainly not as common as in the extremes of ages or (those) with underlying health issues," he said in an interview Tuesday.

"It's certainly a tragedy. I certainly express my sympathies to friends and family of anyone who's had these severe outcomes."

Roussin said it's still too early to predict whether this year's flu season will be more severe than normal.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has blamed the flu and a spike in respiratory illnesses for recent overcrowding at city hospital emergency rooms.

Roussin said the earlier-than-usual arrival of Influenza B contributed to the strain on the system.

In the first week of the year (Dec. 29-Jan. 4), there were 256 visits per day to the province's emergency rooms due to respiratory illnesses, including the flu. The week before, such visits hit a three-year high at 262 per day.

Last year, 17 people with lab-confirmed influenza died in Manitoba, while the year before there were 46 deaths, the most in 10 years.

Getting the flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the virus, Roussin said. And while it's best to get it in fall, it's not too late to do so, he said.

Normally, around one in five Manitobans get the flu shot; last season, 23.6 per cent did so. As of Dec. 27, 22 per cent had received the flu shot this season.

Roussin believes one of the reasons the numbers are so low is because of familiarity with influenza.

"Because we see the flu come every year, and everyone knows about the flu, (we) don't perceive it as risky as it actually is," he said.

-Larry Kusch

"We ask staff and students to wash thoroughly and say the ABCs (singing the song takes the appropriate amount of time for proper cleansing) so you know you’re doing a really good cleansing of your hands."

A recent Manitoba Health report indicates there was "high (influenza) activity" during the first week of 2020.

Since September 2019, Manitoba Health has recorded strains of Influenza A (H3N2), Influenza A (H1N1) and Influenza B. (Experts say it's somewhat unusual for more than one strain to be circulating at the same time.)

Two seniors, both past the age of 80, have died of flu-related causes in the province since. But young people haven't been immune; a spokesperson for Manitoba Health said in a statement Tuesday that, "the flu is impacting younger people more this season than in previous years."

Morden’s Joanne Ens died Jan. 6 from a flu-related illness. (FACEBOOK)

Morden’s Joanne Ens died Jan. 6 from a flu-related illness. (FACEBOOK)

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old Morden woman died Jan. 6 after a flu-related illness. "She had battled a case of the flu since New Year’s Day and then had a bacterial infection that her body was too weak to handle," an online obituary for Joanne Ens says.

Almost 200 influenza B cases have been reported to date and almost all involved people under the age of 50, while Influenza A cases reported cases have been minimal, with more than half below the age of 50.

Manitobans who are six months or older are eligible for a free flu vaccine. Injections are available at public health offices, nursing stations, doctors’ offices, Access Centres and pharmacies, as well as immunization clinics.

On average, about 22 per cent of Manitoba residents get a flu shot every year. It's not clear whether Ruppenthal was immunized with this season's vaccine.

"The flu is impacting younger people more this season than in previous years." –Manitoba Health

Julien Arino, a professor at the University of Manitoba, who researches mathematical epidemiology and population dynamics, called that number "very low."

While Arino said the flu isn’t nearly as contagious as a disease such as measles, between 45 and 60 per cent of a population has to get a flu shot in order for the province to obtain herd immunity.

"People tend to be indifferent to vaccines. You hear about influenza every year, but you don’t really realize what effect it will have until you really see something that hits close to home," Arino said. "It’s often things like what happened to (Ruppenthal), which will lead people to vaccinate."

Meanwhile, he said it’s most effective to get the flu shot at the start of the season since it takes up to two weeks to protect patients from the flu strains in it — although it's better late than never.

In 2018-19, there were 19 flu-associated deaths in Manitoba — a less severe year, compared to a total of 46 one year prior.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

   Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 12:04 PM CST: Writethru.

1:59 PM: updates, adds pdf of Manitoba Health report

5:04 PM: updates with quotes, info

5:42 PM: Adds sidebar.

10:46 PM: Adds photo and details of victim in Morden

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