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Evidence mounts of swine flu's risks for kids

ATLANTA — Health officials said Friday that 76 U.S. children have died of swine flu, including 19 new reports in the past week — more evidence the new virus is unusually dangerous for the young.

The regular flu kills 46 to 88 children a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That suggests deaths from the new H1N1 virus could dramatically outpace children's deaths from seasonal flu, if swine flu continues to spread as it has.

CDC officials say 10 more states, a total of 37, now have widespread swine flu, including Florida. A week ago, reports suggested that cases might be leveling off and even falling in some areas of the country, but that did not turn out to be an enduring national trend.

"We are seeing more illness, more hospitalizations, and more deaths," the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said Friday.

The new virus, first identified in April, is a global epidemic. The CDC doesn't have an exact count of all swine flu deaths and hospitalizations, but existing reports suggest more than 600 have died and more than 9,000 have been hospitalized. Health officials believe millions of Americans have caught the virus.

The virus is hitting young people harder. Experts believe older people are suffering from it less, perhaps because they have a bit of immunity from exposure over the years to similar viruses. Pregnant women also seem vulnerable. During the first four months of the outbreak, 100 pregnant women were hospitalized with the virus, and 28 died.

Most healthy children recover and often suffer only mild symptoms. But some have died from it, often from a second infection that moves in while the body is weakened from the flu.

Kids with asthma or chronic heart or respiratory conditions also are at greater risk.

Experts say it's important for parents to watch their children's symptoms carefully. If a child appears to get better, but fever and a cough return, there may be a second infection. Other trouble signs are rapid or difficult breathing or bluish skin color.

Vaccinations against swine flu began this week and so far, states have ordered 3.7 million doses. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties began inoculating health care workers on Friday.

Vaccination of high-risk populations could be begin as early as Monday, said Hillsborough health department spokesman Steve Huard.

Health officials also said more data is trickling in from several clinical trials of the new vaccine, and so far no serious side effects have been reported.

Preliminary results from one study indicate that both a seasonal flu shot and a swine flu shot are effective when given during the same doctor's office visit. However, the government is not recommending that people get the nasal spray versions of the seasonal and swine flu vaccines at the same time.

Who should be inoculated?

The target population for swine flu shot immunization includes:

Children and young adults

6 months of age to 24 years

Pregnant women in all trimesters of pregnancy

Household contacts of infants 6 months and younger

Health care workers with direct patient contact and emergency medical workers

People between 25 and 64 who have underlying health conditions making them high risk for complications of flu, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, and HIV infection

Evidence mounts of swine flu's risks for kids 10/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 9, 2009 10:36pm]
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