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Who are outbreak's victims?

Edgar Hernandez, 5, in his home in La Gloria, Mexico, on Wednesday, was diagnosed with the first confirmed case of swine flu in early April. Near Edgar’s mountain village are massive hog farms.

Pablo Spencer/AFP/Getty Images

Edgar Hernandez, 5, in his home in La Gloria, Mexico, on Wednesday, was diagnosed with the first confirmed case of swine flu in early April. Near Edgar’s mountain village are massive hog farms.

Very little is known about the swine flu victims, living and dead. Even the numbers are sketchy.

Health officials put the global death toll so far at 20 — 19 in Mexico and one a Mexican child who died while traveling in the United States. More than 700 more have been sickened in more than a dozen countries — from Canada to China, Germany to South Korea — and in almost two dozen U.S. states, from Washington to Florida, Maine to Arizona. Officials say the exact number of those sickened by the virus with the scientific name H1N1 may never be known.

Mexican officials have cited privacy reasons for not revealing the names and hometowns of the dead, but at least some broad demographic information has emerged. Epidemiologist Pablo Kuri, an adviser to Mexico's health secretary, gave a brief survey of some of the confirmed swine flu fatalities in that country.

They include four male and 12 female victims. Three children died — a 9-year-old girl, a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. Four were older than 60, the oldest 68. The other nine fatalities were between 21 and 39 — unusual ages for people to die of the flu, because they tend to have stronger immune systems.

People sickened in the United States range in age from 1 to 81, but most are younger than 20, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here is what is known about three key cases.

Edgar Hernandez

The first confirmed case of the swine flu was a child from a poor, rural part of Mexico. Five-year-old Edgar Hernandez lives in La Gloria, a mountain village in the southern state of Veracruz where the swarms of flies and stench from nearby massive hog farms have become part of daily life.

The kindergartner lives in a neatly kept one-story, three-room house with his parents — field laborer and sometime bricklayer Edgar Sr. and Maria, a homemaker — and his 3-year-old brother, Jonathan Francisco.

By the time Edgar became ill, people in La Gloria had been battling a strange respiratory illness for a month. Many of his neighbors blamed the hog farms for their sickness — a source dismissed by epidemiologists who say this virus had likely been moving between humans for months before the villagers got sick.

The last week of March, Edgar complained to his mother of a headache. He developed a high fever and a headache so bad his eyes hurt, but he came around after a clinic visit and a few days of medicine.

The first week of April, health workers took a mucus sample from the boy — the only one taken from those who fell sick in La Gloria that came back positive for swine flu. Edgar's family would not be told of his diagnosis until April 27. By then, the flu already had claimed its first fatality — and she was neither poor, nor from the countryside.

Adela Maria Gutierrez

By Mexican standards, Adela Maria Gutierrez was decidedly middle-class. She and her husband, welder Jose Luis Ramirez, lived in his mother's two-story home, from which the family operates a convenience store.

In early April, the 38-year-old mother of three daughters had found temporary work with Mexico's tax collection agency, going door to door, working 15 hours some days to update the tax registry for Oaxaca state.

During Holy Week, she had worked with another temporary employee, a woman from the same state where Edgar Hernandez lives. That woman had a bad cough, Gutierrez's family recalled later.

On April 9, Gutierrez arrived at a hospital gasping for air, her hands and feet blue from oxygen deprivation. Five days later, she was dead.

Miguel Tejada Vazquez

The toddler who became the first U.S. death from the outbreak, Miguel Tejada Vazquez, 21 months, was born into one of Mexico's wealthiest families and had plenty of access to health care. His great-uncle controls the Angeles Hospital chain, one of Mexico's largest private health providers. His father is a well-known architect. His grandfather is a Mexican media mogul who heads Mexico's Olympic Committee.

Miguel had been with his family in Brownsville, Texas, for most of April and came down with flu symptoms the day after a shopping trip to Houston on April 7. When the hospital in Brownsville could do no more for him, Miguel was transported to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, where he died on Monday. Miguel was the youngest of six children of Miriam Vazquez and Jose Manuel Tejeda.

Who are outbreak's victims? 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 11:31pm]
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