Texas health officials identified the first U.S. resident who died while infected with swine flu on Tuesday, but stopped short of directly saying the virus killed her.
The news of Judy Trunnell’s death came on the same day as officials in the United States and Mexico, where the outbreak of the H1N1 virus started, were voicing hope that the worst of the new flu strain may be over. By early Wednesday the number of confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus rose to 1,516 in 22 countries, according to the latest World Health Organization tally. The count includes 30 deaths: 29 people in Mexico and one in the United States. The United States reported 403 cases, but Trunnell’s death had not been added to the WHO or CDC count. Trunnell, a pregnant 33-year-old teacher, had “chronic underlying health conditions” when she was admitted to a hospital in April, the Texas Department of State Health Services said. The agency did not offer more details. The woman, who was eight months pregnant, was placed on life support. She gave birth to a healthy girl via Caesarean section and died earlier this week. She was from Cameron County, on the U.S.- Mexico border.
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Dr. Brian Smith, regional director for the Texas health services, confirmed the virus was linked to Trunnell’s death and told one CNN affiliate that there was “one death confirmed in Cameron County from H1N1 influenza.” However, speaking with CNN affiliate KRGV, he stopped short of saying it killed her. “It’s certainly part of the clinical picture,” Smith said. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said patients with medical problems often have compromised immune systems that can’t fight off a flu infection. “Pregnant women often, as you may know, are recommended to get the flu shot because their immune systems aren’t as strong either right during pregnancy and immediately thereafter,” Gupta said. “So there may have been several different things going on with her.” The only other death linked to swine flu in the United States was that of a 22-month-old toddler who died in a Texas hospital last week, but he was visiting from Mexico and not a U.S. resident. In Maryland, Trunnell’s relatives grieved her death and hoped she will be remembered more than as just the first U.S. resident, whose death was linked to the virus. “She was a beautiful person, warm at heart,” her cousin, Mario Zamoria, told CNN affiliate WMAR in Baltimore. “She worked with disabled children as a teacher. I just wish everybody, those who knew her would always remember her.” Meanwhile, the CDC on Tuesday eased up on an earlier recommendation that schools should be closed when a student tests positive for the virus. Instead, the agency said in a written release that students who show signs of the flu should be kept out of school — just like during an outbreak of more typical strains of the flu. Watch how schools may not need to close for swine flu » “[W]e have learned that the disease currently being caused by this novel flu virus appears to be similar with that typically caused by seasonal influenza,” the CDC said. “Although many people may get sick, the available data do not indicate we are facing an unusually severe influenza virus.” Earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged claims by Mexican authorities who believe their cases have peaked and said, “I have no reason to think that is inaccurate.” Mexico has reported 822 laboratory-confirmed human cases of infection, including 29 deaths, according to the WHO. Health officials have begun using the virus’s clinical name, H1N1, to reflect that it’s actually a combination of several different types of flu and to reduce confusion about whether eating pork can spread the virus — which it cannot. Mexican officials, citing improvement in the battle against the virus, announced plans to reopen government offices and restaurants on Wednesday. Museums, libraries and churches will reopen the following day. Officials ordered a wide-ranging shutdown of Mexico City last week, shuttering about 35,000 public buildings in the bustling metropolis of about 20 million people.
While worries about the flu are easing, WHO and CDC officials plan to monitor developments in the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season arrives over the next few months. They say results there will help determine whether a stronger strain of the virus will return to the United States and the Northern Hemisphere during the fall flu season.