Utah and Arizona report swine flu-related deaths

May 21, 2009 7:38:16 AM PDT
Swine flu forced Christina Huitron to decision no mother should ever have to make.

On Wednesday she told doctors to take her 21-year-old son off life support, making Marcos Sanchez the nation's 10th fatality associated with the newly discovered virus that continues to spread across the globe.

"I knew he was suffering," Christina Huitron told KSL-TV. "I don't know how he was feeling, but I just knew I had to do it because he was passing away slowly anyways, and I didn't want him to suffer anymore."

Sanchez checked into a suburban hospital Saturday, vomiting blood and burning with fever, Huitron told The Salt Lake Tribune. By Tuesday he was suffering from multiple organ failure.

Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said Marcos, the state's first swine flu fatality, was overweight and had chronic medical conditions, including respiratory problems, that put him at risk.

"This is not a person who was overall genuinely healthy," Sundwall said.

Sanchez had not traveled recently. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, said an investigation to determine how he contracted the virus was under way. Utah has 122 confirmed cases of the virus.

In neighboring Arizona, health officials said Wednesday a 13-year-old boy from Tucson also has died with swine flu. The teenager died Friday of complications from the flu. He had been hospitalized May 10.

Arizona Department of Health Services spokeswoman Patti Woodcock said an older sibling of the teen is hospitalized with the virus, while other family members have recovered.

Swine flu has sickened more than 11,000 people in 41 countries and killed 85, according to the World Health Organization, whose figures often trail those of individual countries. Mexico has reported 75 deaths, the U.S. 10, and one in both Canada and Costa Rica.

In New York City, officials, colleagues, friends and family gathered Wednesday at a funeral home to remember Mitchell Wiener, an 55-year-old assistant principal who died of swine flu Sunday.

"Whenever I needed help, I used to always go to him," student Jeffery Grey told reporters outside the funeral home. "I really don't know who to go to now when I need help."

Two more New York City public schools closed because of swine flu, bringing the number of city public and private schools shuttered within the last week to 23. One school closed Thursday across the Hudson River in Fort Lee, N.J., another closed in Reno, Nev., and four schools closed in Lodi, Wis., after students were sickened.

Judy Davis, a spokeswoman for the Washoe County District Health Department in Nevada, said state, county and school officials agreed that closing Mendive Middle School in Sparks was "best course of action" to prevent further spread of the flu after five students were sickened and one was hospitalized.

But experts said closing schools once students were already ill would do little to halt the virus' seemingly inexorable spread.

"As a disease containment measure, it is not likely to be effective," said Dr. Paul Biddinger, associate director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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