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Contra Costa County child infected with swine flu dies

June 4, 2009 |  2:58 pm

An elementary school-aged child infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus in central Contra Costa County has died, health officials said today.

It was not immediately clear whether the child died from the flu, a secondary bacterial infection the child also suffered from, or another cause. An autopsy is under way, said Dr. Gil Chavez, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases.

“We are doing everything possible to understand the cause of this child’s death,” said Dr. Wendel Brunner, public health director for Contra Costa County, said in a statement.

The child, who died last week, did not have an underlying medical problem. But it is not unusual for children sick with the flu to become critically ill if they develop a secondary bacterial infection.

“It’s not uncommon where the child has the flu, and gets a secondary bacterial infection and subsequently dies,” Chavez said.

So far this flu season, six children in California have died from the regular, seasonal strain of the flu. Three were children who had underlying medical problems, and the other three were in previously healthy children who developed a secondary bacterial infection.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that out of the 36,000 people a year who die from flu-related causes, 50 to 100 of them are children.

Doctors aren’t sure whether the flu or the bacterial infection played a greater role in the Contra Costa County child’s death. “Which one was more responsible for the death, it’s hard to tell without a full autopsy result,” Chavez said.

So far, California has confirmed two deaths from the swine flu, both in middle-aged adults who had previous medical problems and lived in Southern California.

Chavez said scientists are studying why the swine flu virus is continuing to circulate beyond the end of the traditional flu season. Still, he said, there is no evidence that the H1N1 flu strain is becoming more severe or deadly than the regular flu strain.

Thousands of Americans have contracted the H1N1 flu since April. Seventeen have died from the swine flu strain in the United States.

--Rong-Gong Lin II

Swinemap140Use The Times interactive map to see how swine flu spread in the weeks after the virus was first detected.