Nico Mallozzi, 10, died on Sunday after he was diagnosed with the flu while traveling with his hockey club in upstate New York

By Char Adams
January 18, 2018 12:30 PM

A 10-year-old boy died on Sunday due to complications from the flu while traveling with his hockey club in upstate New York — and his passing marks the latest in a string of flu-related deaths.

Nico Mallozzi, of Connecticut, came down with a fever during his trip to Buffalo with his fellow Connecticut Roughriders on Friday night. His parents, who were traveling with the team, took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with the flu and released, but his condition quickly grew worse and the fourth-grader died suddenly on Sunday.

“It’s an impossible tragedy for [the family] to navigate,” family friend Kirsten Morin tells PEOPLE. Morin started a GoFundMe page for the family and Mallozzi’s parents released a statement on the fundraiser, saying, “There are no words to describe the loss we feel.”

The New York medical examiner’s office determined that the flu, complicated by pneumonia, led to sepsis and ultimately led to Nico’s death, Dr. David Reed, New Canaan’s director of health, confirms to PEOPLE.

Reed told New Canaan News that Nico began feeling under the weather before the trip, but he “wanted to go to Buffalo with his team.” Reed said that after Nico’s initial hospital visit, the family decided to return to Connecticut early on Sunday. However, Nico’s health took a turn for the worse and he didn’t make it home. The family rushed him to a New York hospital on Sunday where he died.

Credit: GoFundMe

Now, Morin says that while the family is grieving, they are comforted by the “overwhelming support” they’ve received from people nationwide. “The hockey community has rallied around his family … it’s such a tight-knit group. It’s been mind-blowing to see the support from near and far.”

Hockey club officials mourned Nico’s death in a statement on the club’s website, saying, “It is a very sad day for all of us, Nico was a great kid with a great smile and he will be missed greatly.”

Nico’s 12-year-old brother is currently hospitalized with the flu, TODAY reports.

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Officials with New Canaan’s West Elementary School, where Nico went to middle school, released a statement, announcing the boy’s death.

“Nico was a wonderful, enthusiastic, outgoing boy who was known school-wide for his high spirits, limitless energy, and quick smile,” the statement read.

“He loved sports, especially gathering up his friends to play football at recess, and was a devoted hockey player and teammate. We will miss Nico terribly, and will always cherish our memories of him as a vibrant, fun-loving boy.”

Stories of flu-related deaths have consumed headlines in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Jenny Ching, of Needham, Massachusetts, died suddenly of flu complications.

Last month, 21-year-old aspiring personal trainer Kyler Baughman died after experiencing septic shock caused by the flu virus. Just weeks earlier, Alani “Joie” Murrieta died one day after she was diagnosed with the flu.

On Friday, the CDC announced a first in its 13 years of flu monitoring: As of Jan. 6, every part of the continental U.S. showed “widespread” flu activity.

Different strains of influenza circulate each year. This year, influenza A — specifically H3N2 — is especially prevalent, according to the CDC. In years with predominantly H3 viruses, according to the CDC, the country tends to see more serious cases of the flu, especially in young children and elderly adults, as well as decreased vaccine effectiveness, resulting in more total infections and more hospitalizations.

That said, the CDC still recommends that you get vaccinated if you haven’t already, as there could be as many as 13 weeks of flu season still to come. Plus, the shot may protect against influenza B strains, which typically come out later in the season.

Getting the flu shot and staying home if you’re sick are two of the most important ways to reduce transmission. But the CDC says it’s also important to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and wipe down surfaces that may have come into contact with contagion, as flu germs can live on them for up to 24 hours.