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Mexican boy first to die of swine flu

April 30, 2009

 

 

by Juan A. Lozano
The Associated Press

Mexico City toddler who traveled to Texas with family to visit relatives is the first confirmed death in the U.S. from swine flu.

The boy, who was nearly 2 years old, arrived in the border city of Brownsville with "underlying health issues" April 4 and developed flu symptoms four days later, the Texas Department of State Health Services said. He was taken to a Brownsville hospital April 13 and transferred the following day to a hospital in Houston, where he died Monday night.

Texas Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said it is "highly likely" the child contracted the illness in Mexico, though that hasn’t been confirmed. The boy is one of 16 confirmed swine flu cases in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has issued a disaster declaration and schools have shut down across the state out of fear of the virus.

The cause of the boy’s death was pneumonia caused by the flu virus, Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where the boy died, said in a statement he was suffering from "acute respiratory illness."

State health officials declined to identify the boy or his family, citing privacy concerns, medical confidentiality and "the absence of an obvious health threat from the boy to the public at large."

The boy would not have been infectious when he flew from Mexico City to Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, according to state health officials. Swine flu is suspected of killing more than 150 people and sickening over 2,400 in Mexico.

The boy’s family members "are healthy and well," Houston’s emergency services director, Dr. David Persse, said at a Wednesday news conference.

Officials in Brownsville are trying to trace his family’s trip to find out how long they were in the area, who they visited and how many people were in the group, Cascos said.

Houston officials said he was 23 months old, but state officials said he was 22 months old and could not immediately explain the discrepancy.

Meanwhile, schools throughout Texas continued to shut down to clean their campuses and for precautionary reasons. Texas officials also postponed all high school athletic and academic competitions until May 11, suspending the baseball season and eliminating the regional track championships.

In Lubbock, city health spokeswoman Beckie Brawley said a dozen samples were being tested for possible swine flu with results expected later Wednesday.

In Austin, Perry and his top emergency management officials assured that Texas has a detailed plan in place to respond. They’ve had plenty of practice with hurricanes, flooding and wildfires and say they are treating this much the same.

"We’ve been executing our pandemic flu plan ever since we got word of the initial cases," Perry said.

The disaster declaration covers the whole state. It moves Texas into a higher state of alert and makes certain resources available, such as 25 percent of Texas’ CDC allotment of antiviral doses, or 850,000 doses.

That’s in addition to the 840,000 doses Texas purchased after 2007 legislative session.

As for future action, Perry said closing the border is an option, but he doesn’t want to play a "what if game."

"There’s no need to panic," Perry said. "I urge our citizens to act responsibly in the course of this situation. Heed the advice of local and state health officials."

Lakey said tracking the illness is complex because seasonal flu is still ongoing, he said. He urged people to stay home if they are sick and to use antiviral medication if necessary, which is a treatment for the course of the illness.

"This is a serious public health threat, but we believe our approach here in Texas is prudent, it’s not panic," Lakey said.

Associated Press writers Kelley Shannon in Austin, Terry Wallace in Dallas, Christopher Sherman in McAllen, and Jim Vertuno in Austin; and AP Medical Writers Lindsay Tanner in Chicago and Mike Stobbe in Atlanta contributed to this story.

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