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Swine Flu Deaths Striking Older Children More Often

Ruthann Schrock administers a standard flu vaccine to Will Ross in Iowa Monday during a clinical trial on when the H1N1 vaccine should be given.
Ruthann Schrock administers a standard flu vaccine to Will Ross in Iowa Monday during a clinical trial on when the H1N1 vaccine should be given. (By Brian Ray -- Associated Press)

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By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

Swine flu may be causing more deaths among older children than the very young, federal health officials reported Thursday.

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More than 80 percent of the pediatric deaths from swine flu that have occurred so far have been among children older than age 5, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an analysis of 36 pediatric deaths reported through Aug. 8.

Although information about pediatric deaths from previous flu seasons is scant, about half occurred among those age 5 and older during previous seasons, the agency said.

"Child deaths from influenza are really tragic," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. He added, however, that it remains too early to know whether the pattern will continue and how many pediatric deaths will occur this year from swine flu.

"The jury is still out," he said.

It could be that the virus is no more dangerous for older children but that more deaths are occurring in that age group because more children are being exposed in school, said Deborah Christensen, a CDC epidemic intelligence service officer.

"We have seen a lot of illness in school-age children during this pandemic," Christensen said.

About two-thirds of the deaths occurred in children who had other health problems. Ninety-two percent of those children had illnesses involving the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, and 59 percent had more than one such complication. Eight deaths, however, occurred among children older than 5 who had no high-risk medical conditions. Two of those children were obese.

"The take-home message from this study, I think, is that particularly kids with underlying conditions need to be treated promptly if they develop fever, and [be] first on line or at the front of the line for vaccination," Frieden said.

Most of the children who died had also developed bacterial infections.

"That's an important lesson for doctors," Frieden said, noting that physicians should keep an eye on children who recover from the flu but then get sick again. They may require antibiotics for a secondary bacterial infection.

"When you get the flu, your immune system can be a little weakened, you can be more susceptible to other infections," Frieden said.


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