9 year old Concord girl, with swine flu, dies: How worried should we be?

The news of the May 29 death of Karen Perez, a student at El Monte Elementary School, is of course tragic and troubling. The troubling part comes from the fact that Contra Costa Health officials announced that that a state laboratory test confirmed Wednesday that Karen was infected with swine flu—or H1N1 virus.

However, what’s still not known is whether she died of swine flu or something else. She also had a secondary bacterial infection.

Remember the swine flu hysteria of late April, when news of the illness first broke? State and U.S. health officials recommended the 14-day closure of schools, where children came down with suspected or confirmed cases of the illness. Several schools in the East Bay suburbs were closed. Were those closures necessary? Did the media hype fears about this flu and a possible global pandemic?

As it became clear that most cases of the illness were rather mild, health officials relaxed that recommendation, and said school closures were no longer necessary.

“We want to emphasize that there are hundreds of H1N1 cases in the county. The vast majority of these cases have mild or moderate illness, and the patients recover. Tragically, this child did not,” said Wendell Brunner, Contra Costa public health director, according to a story in the Contra Costa Times.

Karen is the first person in the Bay Area and the first child in the state who died after contracting the virus. Two other Californians with the virus have died; nationwide, at least 20 people with H1N1 have died.

The Concord girl is the seventh person younger than 18 to die from a flu-related illness in California this year. The other deaths were associated with the regular seasonal flu virus.

Many of the swine flu-related deaths reported have involved victims with previous medical conditions. What makes the Concord case unusual, Brunner said, is that Karen was a healthy girl.

Brunner stressed that no schools would be closed and parents should not be concerned. The child was taken out of school more than seven days ago — the flu’s incubation period — so no more precautions are necessary at the campus, he said.

According to the latest June 3 update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The virus is infecting people and is spreading from person-to-person, sparking a growing outbreak of illness in the United States. An increasing number of cases are being reported internationally as well.

It’s thought that H1N1 flu spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread; mainly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus.

It’s uncertain at this time how severe this novel H1N1 outbreak will be in terms of illness and death compared with other influenza viruses. Because this is a new virus, most people will not have immunity to it, and illness may be more severe and widespread as a result. In addition, currently there is no vaccine to protect against this novel H1N1 virus. CDC anticipates that there will be more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths associated with this new virus in the coming days and weeks.

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