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Published: Friday, 1/9/2004

Flu blamed for deaths of 93 children

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Federal health experts said yesterday that 93 children in the United States, including five in Ohio and possibly six in Michigan, have died from the flu so far this flu season.

However, they caution that they don t know if that total is higher than normal. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention usually don t track flu-related deaths in children. Mathematical models have suggested that on average 92 children die annually from the flu.

News of flu deaths and cases have been followed closely by the public and physicians this winter because influenza hit earlier than normal, resulting in swamped emergency departments and doctors offices as well as a run on flu vaccine.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director, said recent reports suggest some good news.

“We re cautiously optimistic that at least in some parts of the country we may have reached a peak ... but there is still plenty of flu out there,” she said.

She warned that influenza is unpredictable and some years cases surge again later in the season or new strains emerge. She urged people to continue to limit their chances of illness by washing hands and to consult with their physicians if they become sick and fear their symptoms are severe.

Ohio and Michigan officials said it s too early to say if their states have reached a peak. So far in Ohio, nearly 6,000 cases of suspected influenza or influenza-like illness have been reported, which is about six times higher than last year at this time.

However, last season the flu hit later, and by the spring, the state ended up with about 10,000 cases.

So, the large jump in suspected Ohio flu cases this season may just be a result of an earlier onset of influenza, said Kristopher Weiss, Ohio Department of Health spokesman.

“Any death is tragic, but what s happening this season is not unprecedented,” said Mr. Weiss, noting 3,000 Ohioans die from influenza each year.

Typically, influenza cases don t peak in Ohio until mid to late January, he added.

Michigan authorities don t track suspected flu cases but have reported more than 100 confirmed flu cases.

Though Ohio has confirmed five deaths in children, Michigan health authorities said of the six cases they suspect, some eventually may be ruled out.

None of the flu deaths in children this season has occurred in northwest Ohio or the Michigan counties of Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Monroe.

Dr. David Grossman, commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said there s still a lot of flu going around in the area, but “I think it s beginning to hit a plateau of sorts.”

One problem this season has been that one of the flu strains sweeping the country wasn t included in this year s vaccine. That strain, known as Fujian, has yet to be detected in Ohio, although it has showed up in Michigan.

Doctors have said the current flu vaccine should still offer partial protection against the Fujian strain.



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