From Our 2009 Archives

New Details on Swine Flu Deaths in Kids

1 in 3 Children Who Died of Swine Flu Had Been Healthy

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Sept. 3, 2009 -- A third of the 36 kids who died of H1N1 swine flu by last August had no underlying medical condition, the CDC reports.

Four of the otherwise healthy kids who died of swine flu were aged 2 years or younger. Kids under 5, and especially those under age 2, are at particularly high risk of serious disease when they get H1N1 swine flu.

But eight of the previously healthy kids were over age 5. Of the six tested, all died with staph or strep bacterial infections -- a warning to parents and doctors to take it seriously when kids who seem to be getting better take a turn for the worse.

Most of the kids who died did have underlying medical conditions. A surprisingly large proportion of them -- 92% -- had developmental delay from neurologic conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and seizures.

"The take-home message from this study is that young kids, particularly those with underlying conditions, need to be treated promptly if they have fever and must be at the front of the line when vaccination becomes available," CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, said today at a news conference.

The CDC report, in today's issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, provides details on the first 36 U.S. deaths in children and teens under age 18.

Among the first 36 swine flu deaths in children and teens:

  • Ages ranged from 2 months to 17 years; the median age was 9 years.
  • Half the children were male and half were female.
  • Two of the eight healthy children over age 5 were obese.
  • Duration of illness ranged from one day to 28 days; the median illness lasted six days.
  • Only four of the children received antiviral treatment within the recommended 48 hours of illness onset.
  • Three of the 23 children tested had MRSA (multi-drug-resistant staph) infections.

Frieden noted that seasonal flu is just as deadly to children as is swine flu, and stressed the importance of kids getting seasonal flu vaccines.

He also noted that until H1N1 swine flu vaccine becomes available in mid-October -- and until that vaccine has time to produce immunity to swine flu -- parents should limit the spread of flu by keeping their kids home when they are sick and by teaching all children to wash their hands frequently and observe cough/sneeze etiquette.

Frieden also announced that the CDC is making $1.5 billion available to states for vaccine planning and administration. How to spend that money will be up to states, he said. Some will set up public health clinics; others will form partnerships with private companies to provide vaccination.

The vaccine will be free, and will be administered for free at public health clinics. But private providers will charge fees for actually giving the shot, although health insurers say this will be a covered expense.

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sept. 3, 2009; vol 58: pp 942-947. Thomas Frieden, MD, director, CDC.

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