Texas Sees First Swine Flu Death In U.S.

A Mexican toddler died in Houston on Monday, after falling ill while visiting family members in Brownsville, Texas, along the border. The state Department of Health Services says the boy had "several underlying health problems."

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Some details now on the first swine flu death in the U.S. As Don Gonyea mentioned earlier, it came in Texas - a young boy, a Mexican national was here visiting his family. From Austin, NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT: The 22-month-old toddler from Mexico City reportedly came down with a fever on April 8th, followed by other flulike symptoms. Five days later, on April 13th, his parents took him across the border from Matamoros. He was admitted to a hospital in Brownsville, Texas and then rushed to Houston with its large medical complex. The boy died on Monday. None of his family members have become ill.

Officials in Texas took pains today to stress that the death is no reason to believe, as Houston mayor, Bill White, said, that his city is somehow an epicenter of swine flu or that normally healthy individuals are at risk. State health commissioner David Lakey.

Dr. DAVID LAKEY (State Health Commissioner, Texas): Every year with seasonal flu, you know, nationwide we have about 36,000 individuals that December through March die from regular influenza. And our hope is that this virus will likewise just go away with the change in the season.

BURNETT: People who die of influenza tend to be the very old and the very young. And the child who died had several underlying health problems, said Dr. David Persse, director of Houston's Emergency Medical Services.

Dr. DAVID PERSSE (Director, Houston Emergency Medical Services): You know, this was a very young child. And so, again, as tragic as it is, this particular flu we're talking about, at least so far, seems to be following the same pattern as the seasonal flu.

BURNETT: Despite their assurances, Texas officials took the precaution of shutting down all high school athletic events until May 11th to avoid crowds where the flu could spread. So far five school districts in Texas have cancelled classes. Governor Rick Perry was asked today if he would consider recommending that the Texas-Mexico border be closed to prevent potential northbound flu carriers.

Governor RICK PERRY (Texas): That obviously would be an option, but, again, I think playing the what-if game of escalation without good indicators that that is happening is a little premature.

BURNETT: Texas officials say, as with the rest of the country, they expect more confirmed cases of swine flu in the days ahead.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

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