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Allison Eaglespeaker

Allison Eaglespeaker

A kindergarten student at Russell Elementary School in Missoula died of influenza and pneumonia on Saturday, the state’s first influenza-related death of the 2018-19 flu season.

According to media reports and a GoFundMe account, Allison Eaglespeaker, 6, died at Community Medical Center from Influenza B and pneumonia.

The Missoula City-County Health Department, in conjunction with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, confirmed that the state’s first flu-related death occurred in Missoula County but did not release the name due to privacy concerns. However, Eaglespeaker’s mother Crystal White Shield spoke with MTN News about the girl’s death and Eaglespeaker’s aunt Raelene White Shield set up a GoFundMe account for funeral expenses. On Facebook, Crystal White Shield wrote in a public Facebook post that a “memorial service for my baby Allison” was scheduled for Monday night.

“My sweet, intelligent, loving, caring baby,” White Shield wrote in another post. “’I’ll be brave.’ I’ll never forget when you said that. Your strength gives me strength.”

Across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there have been five flu-related pediatric deaths so far this season. In Montana, the last child to die from the flu was last winter, when one child under the age of 18 passed away.

Ellen Leahy, the director of the Missoula City-County Health Department, said influenza activity is currently at low levels in Montana.

“However, this is expected to change in the coming weeks,” she said. “In Montana, influenza activity increases in December and peaks in January and February. To date, there have been 36 cases and six hospitalizations reported in Montana. This includes 12 cases and one influenza-related hospitalization in Missoula County. Last season, over 10,000 cases, 979 hospitalizations, and 79 deaths were reported across Montana, including 421 cases, 53 hospitalizations, and seven deaths from Missoula County.”

Influenza spreads through coughing and sneezing with symptoms that can include high fever, chills, headaches, exhaustion, sore throat, cough and body aches, she said.

“It may take about 1 to 4 days after being exposed to the virus for symptoms to develop,” she said. “Additionally, you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else 1 day before and 5-7 days after becoming sick.”

Leahy said the CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine to help protect against influenza. The health department offers a vaccine for all ages starting at six months. The cost is $46 but there is a sliding scale for the children’s vaccine. Walk-ins are accepted on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at 301 W. Alder Street. Call the vaccination clinic at 258-4745 for more information.

In addition, Leahy said everyday precautions can help stop the spread of flu. Those measures include:

• Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Washing your hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, if soap and water are not available.

• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Avoiding close contact with sick people.

• Staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or necessities.