3-year-old is Md.'s first reported flu fatality

Baltimore boy died Dec. 16 at city hospital

January 09, 2004|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

Maryland reported its first influenza-related death yesterday, a 3-year-old Baltimore boy who died last month during the epidemic's apparent peak.

The child died Dec. 16 at a city hospital, a day after being taken there by ambulance, according to the Baltimore City Health Department. The state medical examiner's office determined that he died from influenza Type A combined with a bacterial infection. The death was reported yesterday after final lab results were reviewed.

Health officials, noting that thousands of Marylanders have been sickened by the flu this season, said there have probably been other deaths among vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly. But the state health department has been asked only to report pediatric flu-related deaths to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner, emphasized that the boy's death, the first such one in the city since 1999, was unusual. "It is tragic, but it is quite rare," he said.

Across the country, the number of flu cases seems to be waning, according to the CDC and hospital officials.

"We are cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the CDC director, in a telephone news briefing yesterday. She said that 38 states reported widespread cases of flu last week, compared with 42 the previous week. Maryland was among the states reporting widespread cases both weeks.

The CDC divides the country into nine regions. Flu cases declined in all nine regions, said CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson.

Some Baltimore-area hospitals also said they have seen a decline in flu cases. This week, the hospital's emergency room was testing an average of 10 people a day for flu, down from 30 to 40 people a day last week, said Allison Foreman, a spokeswoman for North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson has seen a similar decrease.

Hospital spokesman Michael Schwartzberg said flu cases there went from five to 10 a day late last month to "a couple" a day this week.

Many experts say they believe that this year's flu season, which began earlier than usual, at the beginning of October, will also end early. Flu season generally runs from the beginning of November to March.

But Pearson, the CDC spokeswoman, warned that the trajectory of a given flu season is "extremely" unpredictable: "Just because it started early doesn't mean it will end early."

Gerberding, too, noted that the virus could make a resurgence and said that new strains sometimes appear later in the season. "There's still plenty of flu out there," she said.

This season, 93 children have died nationwide from flu-related causes, Gerberding said. She said the CDC doesn't know how that compares with past seasons because this is the first time the CDC has asked states to keep track of pediatric deaths. The agency estimates that 92 children younger than 5 die annually from flu-related causes.

Every year, 36,000 Americans die from flu or flu-related causes, and 114,000 are hospitalized, according to the CDC.

Beilenson and others emphasized that for most people, flu is not a fatal illness.

He said, "Thousands of people in Baltimore have come down with the flu -- kids and adults both -- and have recovered and are doing just fine."

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