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Flu Kills at Least 111 Children Five Victims from Georgia

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At least 111 children have died from influenza since October, including five in Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

That is up from 93 deaths in the CDC's last update two weeks ago, after the apparent peak of the unusually heavy and early flu season. Most of the additional deaths occurred before the last update but were only recently reported.

"We've had fewer deaths [among children] recently," said Jennifer Wright, with the CDC's influenza branch. "Even if they were to stop today, I'd imagine we'd still get reports of deaths that occurred even two or three months before."

The Georgia toll includes the previously reported death of a 5-year-old girl from Sandy Springs, plus four others that Georgia health officials had considered probable for flu now confirmed by the CDC because of positive results on rapid flu tests.

Those four deaths include three metro Atlanta children --- boys ages 1 and 12, and a 4-year-old girl --- and a 4-year-old boy from North Georgia, said Alison Han with the Georgia Division of Public Health. Georgia is investigating an additional eight deaths of children for a possible link to flu, Han said.

While flu activity nationwide continues to subside, health officials still urge those considered at highest risk --- people over 65, children ages 6 months to 23 months, anyone with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women in their second or third trimester --- to get immunized where vaccine is available.

The severity of the flu outbreak, and concern over deaths among children in Colorado and elsewhere, triggered a national rush on vaccine that exhausted the 83 million doses produced. No more vaccine could be made in time for this flu season. Even though this season's vaccine doesn't match the Fujian flu strain that has been most prominent in recent months, health officials say it still offers partial protection.

The CDC last month purchased an additional quarter-million doses of vaccine from overseas. Georgia received about 11,000 of the doses this week and has made the shots available at some county health departments.

Of the 111 deaths nationwide --- among children under age 18 --- vaccination status is known for 64 of them: three were fully vaccinated, 49 were not and 12 were partially vaccinated or didn't receive shots early enough for protection to take effect before they became ill.

Twenty-one of the 111 children had medical conditions known to increase the risk of influenza, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The fact that so many children without high-risk conditions have died this season has concerned health authorities, who have paid special attention to pediatric flu complications such as brain swelling and antibiotic-resistant staph infections.

An estimated 36,000 people die from influenza each year, but most are elderly, the CDC says. The tally includes about 92 deaths among children under age 5, though the CDC calls that estimate sketchy.

No statistics are available on this season's deaths among adults, since doctors aren't required to report flu cases or deaths. The CDC made a special request late last year by asking doctors to report flu deaths among children, which could become a permanent requirement.

Of the 111 deaths, Colorado and Texas had the most --- 12 deaths each. North Carolina was next, with nine deaths. Alabama had two, Florida had four, Tennessee had one and South Carolina had four. Seventeen states had none.

Only five states --- Delaware, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont --- reported widespread flu last week, down from 45 states in late December. For the first time since early November, the percentage of doctor visits for flu dropped below 2.5 percent.

But health officials say second bursts of flu sometimes emerge as late as March or April. Officials also are keeping a close watch on an avian flu strain that has jumped from poultry to humans in Asia, killing at least five and possibly 13 people in Vietnam, most of them children.

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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