First U.S. Death From Swine Flu Is Reported as Outbreak Spreads

By Eliza Strickland | April 29, 2009 8:50 am

swine flu mapA 23-month-old Mexico child who was staying with relatives in Texas has become the first casualty of swine flu within U.S. borders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today. “I can confirm the very sad news out of Texas that a child has died of the H1N1 virus,” the CDC’s Dr. Richard Besser said [CNN], although officials later added that the child had preexisting health problems. California is also investigating whether a man died from the viral infection. There are now 71 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, the CDC reports, and new cases are being investigated across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Orlando, Florida.

At the epicenter of the outbreak, Mexico, 159 people have died and at least 1,600 people have been sickened by the flu. But although the virus has been spread by air travelers to other countries, only a handful of patients in the United States and elsewhere outside Mexico have been hospitalized, and severe complications have been relatively rare. “We still do not have a good explanation for why the pattern of cases in other countries appear relatively mild while the pattern of cases in Mexico appear to be much more severe,” said Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization [Washington Post].

Health officials say it’s possible that some factor other than the virus causes Mexican patients to fare worse, like co-occuring infections, nutritional deficits, or less sophisticated medical care. It’s also possible that the virus is weakening as it spreads. That would not be an unusual evolutionary device, since viruses that are too deadly cannot survive if they kill off their host before being given a chance to spread. “It’s fairly common in epidemics to see a trade-off between the ability to cause severe death and transmissibility,” says Steven Kleiboeker, a virologist [Time].

But another likely explanation is that there have been too few cases reported elsewhere to see the full spectrum of disease the virus is causing…. If that is the case, the number of hospitalizations would increase and deaths would probably occur as the virus spreads, even if the proportion of patients who become severely ill is relatively small. During the devastating 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, about 2 percent of patients died, meaning 98 percent recovered. “We could be at that same level and in that ballpark,” [says flu expert Frederick Hayden]. “We just don’t know” [Washington Post]. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said inspections were being boosted at U.S. borders and airports, while the national stockpile of antiviral drugs was being activated and should be fully deployed by May 3 [Reuters]. Other countries have taken a range of precautions, from the drastic (Cuba and Argentina banned all travel to Mexico), to the scientifically inaccurate (10 countries have banned pork imports from Mexico or the United States, although scientists say the virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork), to the sensible (many Asian countries are thermally scanning disembarking air travelers to check for high fevers).

Related Content:
80beats:  As Swine Flu Spreads, Focus Shifts to a Potential Vaccine
80beats: Fears of a Swine Flu Pandemic Increase as the Virus Goes Global
80beats: Deadly Swine Flu Outbreak in Mexico City Prompts Fears of a Pandemic
80beats: Bird Flu in Egypt and Swine Flu in California Raise Guarded Concerns

Image: Google Maps

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Damian

    “A 23-month-old child from Texas has become the first American casualty of swine flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today.”

    Eliza, small correction. I read in your WaPo link (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/29/AR2009042900956.html?hpid=topnews) that the child was from Mexico City (not Texas), and was only traveling in the US to visit family. It is not known whether the child contracted the disease in Mexico or America. Also, the child apparently had underlying health problems, so it may be misleading to attribute this death directly to swine flu.

    It might be more accurate to categorize this death with those that occurred in Mexico rather than assume it’s the start of a trend in America. Time will tell, of course.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Ah! That WaPo article has been updated since I read it and linked to it. Thanks for the pointing me towards the new info. I updated this post accordingly.

  • John Paul

    Your data on mortality seems off…

    According to a research paper on the CDC website, approximately 500 million people were infected, and the number of deaths was between 50 million and 100 million. That puts the mortality rate at between 10% and 20%… not 2%, which is the number cited by your “flu expert” Frederick Hayden.

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol12no01/05-0979.htm

  • Kt D

    This is awful, and now WHO’s director is calling for the swine flu–or rather, “H1N1″ virus–to be given a phase 5 warning. What seems even sillier to me is that people are STILL debating over what to call the thing when they should be worried about who this is affecting and how we can stop it from getting even worse. There is an interesting video on this name business at newsy.com. The video summarizes different opinions, eventually asking if the name truly matters or not. I would say–with all due respect to the pork industry and those religious leaders who have actually found offense in the terms–that the foremost issue at this point is stopping this virus (whatever it’s name) from spreading any further. Here’s the video, it’s worth watching:

    http://www.newsy.com/videos/swine_flu_gets_a_makeover/

  • Matt Tarditti

    “It’s fairly common in epidemics to see a trade-off between the ability to cause severe death and transmissibility”
    LOL…is “severe death” the cousin of “a little bit pregnant”? But on a serious note, is this flu any worse (or better) than the typical flu that hits every year? Besides the amazing hype, what is setting this apart? I almost feel as if the govt is trying to prove that they can respond, but no one is asking IF we should respond.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    I like how they can’t figure out why the death toll is higher in Mexico than elsewhere. Have they ever read the wikipedia or recent news stories out of Mexico?

    Still, as John Stewart said, swine flu is still the least deadly thing you have to worry about in Mexico right now. Number one: bullet flu – it’s airborne!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    John Paul —

    there seems to be some debate concerning mortality rates in the 1918 flu epidemic, even within that CDC paper you linked to. It says that the official case-fatality rate was greater than 2.5%, which clearly leaves a lot of wiggle room.

    You’re right to point out that some estimates put the total worldwide death rate from that epidemic at around 10 percent, but I think Hayden may have been referring to the U.S. mortality rate, which some estimates put at about 2 percent. I just went back to the Washington Post article that Hayden’s quote came from, but found to my irritation that they’re constantly updating their online articles instead of just publishing new ones, so that section has been replaced with fresher news.

  • G.A.

    Things you will never hear from the U.S. Media
    The U.S. has 36-38,000 cases of death, about 100 deaths per day, 200,000 hospitalized. How many millions sick in bed from the flu? it comes from Mexico? Only one dead person in the U.S., from this so-called Swin flu, a Mexican baby visiting the U.S.?? Are American really this stupid? is this some type of Zombie training program for the American people? (HINI) was here in 1976, have you ever heard of the All-American flu or the California/Texas fruit flu? Are you surprised that the U.S. would blame this on Mexico, since the highest rate of HINI is in the U.S. and Mexico? do you know that the first cases of Aids (white homosexuals New York )late seventies, was blamed on Green monkeys, Africa, Haiti- (American homosexuals paying boys for sex, spread aids to Haiti) and even “Canada” (the homosexual Canadian airline stewardess whom traveled the world called patient o) was blamed for the spread of Aids in the U.S. Let’s look at new castle disease. Several years ago in northern California an outbreak of this Chicken flu, which was blamed on Mexico supposedly from an illegal alien crossing the border with an infected chicken. If it came from Mexico, why were not new Castle disease found in Mexican Chickens in Mexico? Now we have the little ground 0 boy in Veracruz Mexico? I would give a $1000 to hear that explanation. The American drug addict who sticks a needle in his arm and gets hepatitis or tabulates or promiscuous sex does that come from Mexico? I have lived in traveled and did business in Mexico for years my impression is Mexicans are overall heather then Americans. It’s not uncommon to see 90 and 100 year old people in Mexico, why is this in my opinion? I believe it has to do with their comer attitude, strong family ties and unprocessed foods, unlike the U.S. their food doesn’t come out of a can or a bag, over process foods and hormone injected beef and Chicken. Here are the Following facts:
    Mexican Nationals are better behaved then Americans, especially their Children, I’m not talking about Mexican Americans. Illegal Aliens pay Billions in Taxes (IRS sit assed funds). Mexico is kidnapping and killing Americans? Unless you are connected to the drug mafia, your changes are not very likely; you have a better chance winning the lottery (another American lie). Most of the People crossing the border at the port of entry, caught for drugs, guns and people smuggling are Americans and or people who are legally in the U.S. Americans are also involved in Crimes and assassinations in Mexico
    The MS-13 is not from El Salvador; its birth was on the streets America. Just because some of those gang bangers were born in El Salvador, does not mean they are from El Salvador, “that’s why they speak English”. Americas export to El Salvador
    The U.S. is more dangerous than Mexico (general crime) The U.S. Is more dangerous for Mexicans, then Mexico is for Americans
    Mexican Avocados dont have little white worms in them. California grows Avocados. Mexico is the largest producer of Avocados in the world; California does not want the competition. You are only allowed to bring 5lbs or less of Mexican Cheese across the border, why? Because its supposes to be contaminated. If it’s contaminated, why is it allowed? Its protectism (U.S. Dairy commission) Mexican trucking is dangerous? Highway patrol records, reports, Documentations and the U.S. Transportation department reports, records and documentations show Mexican trucking has just as safe a record as the U.S. “in fact long hauled Mexican trucking has a safer record then the U.S.” so who’s behind this propaganda which congressmen were paid off? Can you say the teamsters union (BINGO?)
    Do you know Mexico is California largest customer? Do you know Mexico is the U.S.? Second largest trading partner in the world, Canada is first. Do you know most products that cross the border are coming from the U.S. Close the borders? Who the hell are they kidding? the U.S. is losing lots of business for labor shortage (illegal aliens) and now because the U.S. does not abide by NAFTA, Mexico is leveling high tariffs against U.S. imports Brace yourself for more jobs loses, “thousands” I could go on and on not enough time and space

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