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Mitchell, Ind., girl identified as first flu casualty

Friday, December 19, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- A 13-year-old girl from southern Indiana may be the first child in the state to die from this year's influenza outbreak, a coroner said.

Autopsy results showed that Breanna Stalker, a seventh grader at Mitchell Junior High School, died of organ failure consistent with flu damage, Marion County Coroner Dr. John McGoff said Thursday.

The girl died Wednesday at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, about 80 miles north of the small town where she lived.

Also Thursday, the Indiana State Department of Health said a child who died had tested positive for the flu on a rapid test. Results from viral cultures to confirm that diagnosis could take a few weeks, however, said Health Commissioner Dr. Greg Wilson.

State officials did not release any identifying information about the child. Health department spokesman Andy Zirkle said he did not know the date of the child's death, but that it was "recent." He said the child was of "school-age."

McGoff, who also is an emergency room doctor, said Stalker had no medical conditions that would have placed her in a high-risk category.

"The very young and the very elderly are typically at risk. This would be very, very, very unusual," he told The Indianapolis Star.

The family of Breanna Stalker said doctors told them she died of complications from the flu and pneumonia.

The girl stayed home from school on Dec. 11 but went to school the following day, her mother, Michele Smith, told the Star. She said she took her daughter to the hospital emergency room in Bedford early Monday after her condition worsened.

Doctors sent her home with medication, but her condition continued to worsen and Smith said she took the girl to the hospital again on Wednesday. She was transferred to Indianapolis after a chest X-ray showed she had pneumonia, her mother said.

During last year's flu season, which runs fall through spring, 1,342 people in Indiana suffered flu-related deaths. Most of those people, Zirkle said, had flu that later turned into pneumonia.

Nationwide, the flu has been blamed for the deaths of at least about three dozen children, said Christine Pearson, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pearson said that number might not be complete because states were not required to report flu deaths to the CDC.

The state health department has been trying to obtain as many flu vaccines as possible to slow the spread of the disease. The agency expected to receive about 2,700 doses of the vaccine on Friday and have requested 5,000 doses from the CDC, Zirkle said.

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said Thursday he planned to introduce legislation that would require the CDC to work with vaccine manufacturers to estimate the number of shots that would be required for the coming year and guarantee manufacturers would be reimbursed for a certain number of vaccines if they were unused.

The state health department is urging people to wash hands often, stay away from sick people, avoid large crowds, get plenty of rest and exercise, eat properly and clean surfaces that are frequently touched. Health officials recommend cleaning surfaces like door knobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones with a germicidal product.

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