*23-month-old child dies in Texas of swine flu
*Death is first outside Mexico and first in U.S.
*Official says child was in Houston for treatment
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 23-month-old child has died in Texas from the new H1N1 swine flu, becoming the first death in the United States from the virus, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said on Wednesday.
A Houston health official said the child was a Mexican who traveled to the city for medical treatment.
It is the first death from swine flu reported outside Mexico, the country hardest hit by this influenza outbreak. U.S. officials have confirmed 65 cases of swine flu, most of them mild but with five hospitalizations in California and Texas.
“Unfortunately, this morning I do have to confirm that we have the first death of a child from H1N1 flu virus. And this is in Texas, a 23-month-old child,” Dr. Richard Besser, acting head of the CDC, told the CBS “Early Show.”
“The child came to Houston for medical treatment. The family had traveled to South Texas. The child became ill and they transported the child to Houston for medical care,” Houston health department spokeswoman Kathy Barton told CNN by telephone.
She said she did not know which part of Mexico the child came from.
President Barack Obama, speaking at the White House before a one-day visit to Missouri, said the confirmed death underscored the urgency of taking steps against the disease.
“This is obviously a serious situation. Serious enough to take the utmost precautions,” Obama said, urging state and local authorities to increase their vigilance.
“Every American should know that the federal government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to control the impact of this virus,” he said.
Besser of the CDC had predicted that as they searched for cases, CDC experts would find severe infections and deaths in the United States, even though most of the patients had mild illness.
“As we look, we’re going to find more cases. We’re going to find more severe cases and I expect that we’ll continue to see additional deaths,” Besser told NBC’s “Today” show.
He said additional details would be released by Texas authorities.
Mexico previously had reported the only deaths — 159, based on symptoms and initial tests, with seven deaths so far confirmed by additional laboratory analysis at the World Health Organization.
Influenza regularly kills people around the world, with an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths from the seasonal virus every year. Every year at least a few perfectly healthy children die from seasonal influenza in the United States.
WHO and CDC officials have been trying to assess just how serious the new H1N1 swine influenza strain is. It has been found globally, with cases across North America, Europe and New Zealand.
“We have about 100 cases outside Mexico, and now you have one death. That is very significant,” said Lo Wing Lok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong.
The CDC recommends frequent hand-washing to avoid infection with the new flu virus. It also recommends that people who are sick stay home, cover sneezes and coughs, and avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico until more is known. (Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong, Doina Chiacu and Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)