MS Health Dept: Coast child is 1st swine flu death

By Shelia Byrd 
Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, MS (AP) - Mississippi's first swine flu death was that of an elementary-age child in coastal Jackson County who had multiple underlying conditions, state health officials said Friday.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier said the child died in late July, but health officials received the laboratory tests confirming H1N1 influenza on Thursday. Currier declined to release the child's name, age or sex. However, Jackson County Coroner Vicki Broadus said the child was a 7-year who was being treated at a hospital in Mobile, AL.

Broadus said she didn't handle the case because the child "supposedly was taken to Singing River Hospital" in Jackson County before being transferred to a hospital in nearby Mobile. Broadus said she didn't know if the child was a boy or girl.

Currier said she didn't know if the child had siblings. She said the child hadn't been in a school setting.

Currier said the very young, the elderly, the chronically ill and pregnant women may be at higher risk for complications.

Through July 30, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 353 deaths from the virus across the country, most of which occurred in people with pre-existing medical conditions. Currier said that's about the same death rate with seasonal flu.

As Mississippi children prepare to return to school, health officials have stressed precautions to prevent the spread of H1N1, including coughing and sneezing in a tissue or a sleeve and staying home while running a fever.

Currier said the latest CDC's guidelines do not recommend closing a school if a swine flu case is confirmed. The CDC said Friday that schools should only close this fall if large numbers of students have swine flu.

Currier said a vaccine for swine flu could be available in Mississippi by October, and the health agency is preparing to administer dosages for school students and others.

"It's something we've done before, but not on this scale. Schools are just a great place to transmit a respiratory illness like this. That should be one of the first place we want to work on to provide a vaccine," Currier said.

Neither the swine flu vaccine or the seasonal flu vaccine is mandatory.

"My concern is that people who need to get the vaccine are not going to take the time to do it," she said.

Shane McNeill, director of the office of healthy schools for the Mississippi Department of Education, said Friday the department will not have a statewide policy on whether districts should prepare an at-home curriculum in case schools close because of swine flu.

"Hopefully, we won't get into a situation where schools are closed for an extended period of time," McNeill said. "But schools could make resources available for parents on Web sites. Also, information could be sent home to parents. Each district would have to make that decision on the best way to disseminate that information to parents."

Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)