CDC reacts to deaths with alert to officials
By STEVE STONE AND MICHELLE MIZAL-ARCHER , The Virginian-Pilot
© February 23, 2003
Last updated: 7:42 PM
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are alerting every state health agency to watch for child deaths similar to those that have occurred in recent weeks in Virginia, Michigan and Ohio.
So far, the CDC has received reports of at least 14 children nationally who have died suddenly after experiencing upper respiratory infections and fevers.
The alert is entirely routine, a CDC spokeswoman said Saturday. Local, state and federal officials said there is still no evidence that the cluster of deaths in such a short period represents anything other than a tragic coincidence.
From what we have learned so far, it does look like a viral-related situation, said Kathy Harben, a CDC spokeswoman in Atlanta. There are no known links between the patients, she said, noting the cases were still being evaluated.
In addition to the CDC alert, Virginias health department sent letters Friday asking physicians to notify state health officials of patients who have suffered from any unexplained or unusual illness.
By late Saturday afternoon, state health officials had no new information to report on the unusual deaths of five Virginia children four in Hampton Roads in four days. More information may become available Monday afternoon, said Trina Lee, a Virginia Department of Health spokeswoman.
Maria C. Carter, 2, of Portsmouth, may have suffered from an infection that moved to her heart, medical examiners said after an autopsy. Maria died Feb. 16. Seven-year-old Rachel Broome of Virginia Beach went home sick Monday with a cough and died Wednesday. Bianca Zelena Soria, 6, of Hampton, died the same day from what is believed to have been a viral infection.
At least one more child from Hampton Roads and one from Richmond have died after having similar symptoms, Lee said.
If the deaths prove to be simply an atypical result of a typical flu season, that should come as no surprise, Harben said: The flu situation is different every year.
All the children suffered symptoms common with viral or bacterial infections.
I understand that all parents will be concerned about their children, said Dr. Robert B. Stroube, the Virginia health commissioner. However, at this time of the year, many children have upper respiratory infections and flu, and at this point I have no reason to believe children are at an increased risk of serious illness.
The CDC probe includes seven deaths in Michigan between Jan. 25 and Feb. 3 and two in Ohio as well as the five last week in Virginia.
An additional case, the death of an 18-month-old Elizabeth City boy who died Thursday at Albemarle Regional Hospital, remains under investigation by North Carolina health officials.
The first death to catch the attention of public health officials came Jan. 25 when 14-year-old David Tripp of Ypsilanti, Mich., died suddenly after experiencing flu-like symptoms.
So far, only a few of the Michigan children who died have tested positive for influenza, state health officials said. But public health authorities suspect it may have been a factor in several of the deaths.
Because some of the children, including David Tripp, became ill so suddenly and died without having had flu sophisticated tissue-sample tests, which can take weeks to conduct and dont always provide definite answers.
Despite assurances of health officials, many Hampton Roads parents are still worried. Some continued to take their children to hospital emergency rooms Saturday, fearful that seemingly normal illnesses could be more sinister.
In 15 hours, from midnight Friday to 3 p.m. Saturday, doctors and nurses at Childrens Hospital of The Kings Daughters saw about 200 emergency-room patients, said Becky Ceraul, the hospitals spokesperson. Normally, in 24 hours, they handle 120.
Ceraul estimated a several hour wait for each patient. By Saturday evening, doctors and nurses were still tending to the patients. Extra doctors and nurses have been called to help. Ceraul expects patients to crowd the emergency room today as well.
Ann C. Keffer, spokeswoman for Sentara a Healthcare, said that emergency rooms at hospitals on Saturday had only seen a slight decrease in the number of patients, compared to Fridays heavy crowd. Sentara Healthcare officials also called in extra staff at their hospitals.
Were so busy that were having a hard time keeping numbers straight, Keffer said.
The CDCs Harben echoed the advice of state health officials that parents take simple precautions:
Children should wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water.
Parents should make sure that children cover their mouths when they cough.
Children who are ill should stay home from school until they are feeling better.
We advise parents to take the same precautions to protect their children that they would take to help prevent catching a cold, the flu, or any respiratory infection, said Suzanne Jenkins.
This is creepy.
My youngest daughter (18) was diagnosed with pneumonia a few months back. At the same time I was diagnosed with bronchitis.
Shortly after, another daughter (28) came down with the same cough we had. She developed chest pain and an audible clicking noise in her chest that was eventually diagnosed as possible mitral valve prolapse by an emergency room doctor.
She saw her regular doctor before and after the ER visit. Each time he said he thought she had the pain because she had pulled a muscle.
The pain persisted and she finally got to see a cardiologist who thinks she had (viral) pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart.)
It turned out that a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug was what she needed. The same type of drug her own doctor had recommended for the "pulled muscle."