Published Online: May 6, 2009

Teacher With Swine Flu Dies in Texas

Texas health officials on Tuesday announced the first death of a U.S. resident with swine flu, and said she was a 33-year-old school teacher who had recently given birth to a healthy baby.

The woman died early Tuesday and had been hospitalized since April 19, said Leonel Lopez, Cameron County epidemiologist.

Health officials stopped short of saying that swine flu caused the woman's death. State health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the woman had "chronic underlying health conditions" but wouldn't give any more details.

Lopez said the flu exacerbated the woman's condition. "The swine flu is very benign by itself," Lopez said. But "by the time she came to see us it was already too late."

The only other swine flu death in the U.S. was of a Mexico City boy who also had underlying health problems and had been visiting relatives in Brownsville, near Harlingen. He died last week at a Houston children's hospital.

There have been 26 other confirmed swine flu deaths, all in Mexico. Hundreds of cases of the disease have been confirmed in several countries, but mostly in Mexico and the U.S.

The teacher was from Harlingen, a city of about 63,000 near the U.S.-Mexico border. The school district where she worked announced it would close its schools for the rest of the week, though officials said anyone who might have contracted the disease from her would have shown symptoms by now.

The teacher was first seen by a physician April 14 and was hospitalized five days later. The woman delivered a healthy baby while hospitalized and stayed in the hospital until her death, said Lopez, who declined to give further details about the baby.

Doctors knew she had a flu when she came in, but did not know what kind, Lopez said. The area is undergoing a Type A influenza epidemic right now, of which the swine flu is one variety, he said. She was confirmed to have swine flu shortly before she died, he said.

Dr. Joseph McCormick, regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health's Brownsville campus, said the woman was extremely ill when she was hospitalized.

Mercedes Independent School District, where the woman taught, announced it would close its schools starting Wednesday and reopen May 11.

Based on the time the patient was admitted to the hospital and began to show symptoms of swine flu, anyone who had contracted the disease from her would have shown symptoms by now, McCormick said. Lopez also said students and employees of the school district where she worked shouldn't worry if they are currently healthy.

No Need to Close Schools

U.S. health officials changed course on their advice to schools Tuesday, saying they are no longer recommending that schools close for the swine flu. Last week, the government had advised schools to shut down for about two weeks if there were suspected cases of swine flu.

In Texas, swine flu worries closed some 830 schools, sending about 492,000 students home. But by late Tuesday afternoon, several schools originally closed for at least this week said they would re-open on Thursday. Those school districts include Corpus Christi, Denton and Lewisville.

The Fort Worth school district, which has about 80,000 students, said it would reopen on Friday.

Karen Permetti, a spokeswoman for the 50,000-student Lewisville district, said the district will get word out on the reopening on the Web site and with an e-mailed newsletter.

She said that as soon as the news broke about the new guidelines from the federal government, parents began calling to ask when the district would be reopening.

She said they decided on Thursday so they could finish cleaning the schools and to give students time to return home if, for instance, the kids had been sent out of town to the grandparents for the week.

The El Paso County district clerk is suspending passport processing at the county courthouse for three weeks over concerns about swine flu.

Officials with the city of El Paso Department of Public Health said there are seven confirmed cases of swine flu in El Paso involving people ranging in age from six to 32. All seven have recovered without complications. Six of the seven are school-age.

Mayor John Cook said no schools were being closed but that children who are ill are being sent home.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of State Health Services were not recommending school closures, said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe. She said when to reopen will be a local decision.

"It may not be immediate for them because they've got students scattered across the state," she said. "I think we'll start to see all these schools that have closed reopening fairly soon."

Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell in El Paso and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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