By Stacey Singer
The Palm Beach Post
7:34 PM EDT, July 29, 2009
PALM BEACH COUNTY - While pregnant women have been hard-hit by swine flu in Palm Beach County recently, health department records show that infants and children are falling ill in large numbers, too.
Out of 342 confirmed swine flu cases in Palm Beach County, 70 percent have been in children -- 64 aged 4 or younger -- and 176 between the ages of 5 and 18, the county health department said today. The health department is awaiting confirmation of whether a fourth person has died of swine flu.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Jose R. Mateo said he's seen at least 20 children hospitalized overnight with the 2009 novel H1N1 swine flu since the outbreak began, and five of them have needed to be put on respirators in intensive care.
"I see the ones sick enough to require hospitalization. I have seen a lot. I mean a lot," said Mateo, who practices at West Boca and St. Mary's medical centers, and other hospitals. "The youngest was 11 days old."
The World Health Organization now estimates that 60 percent of confirmed cases are in children 18 or younger.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting today in Atlanta to consider who would have priority access to a swine flu vaccine once it's available. Local doctors said they will urge their patients -- especially pregnant women and children -- to get vaccinated against both swine flu and the regular seasonal flu.
"We are going to stock up on the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available," said obstetrician Dr. Natalie Sohn, who is on staff at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
A study in the scientific journal The Lancet, released today, showed that pregnant women were four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital with swine flu complications than the general population.
Doctors should not hesitate to give antiviral drugs to pregnant women, said study author Dr. Denise Jamieson, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We are recommending that pregnant women receive antivirals as soon as possible after onset of flu symptoms, ideally within 48 hours," Jamieson said.
Her study looked at six flu deaths in pregnant women between April 15 and June 16.
"None of the pregnant women who died received antivirals within two days of symptom onset," Jamieson said.
Many pregnant women are concerned that being vaccinated or taking Tamiflu could hurt them or their unborn baby, Sohn said. But in her seven years of delivering babies here, she said she's never seen a vaccine complication. And the risks of the flu outweigh the unknowns about taking Tamiflu in pregnancy.
"There have been over 300 swine flu deaths right now and 15 of those were pregnant women, which is much higher than the general population," Sohn said.
She's seen one patient so far who was pregnant and had swine flu. She gave the woman Tamiflu right away.
"She is fine. The key with Tamiflu is not to wait," Sohn said.
Three people in Palm Beach County have died of swine flu to date. All of them were adults. One was pregnant. A premature baby whose mother is hospitalized from the flu also died.
Mateo said that the children he has seen in the hospital have generally had underlying medical conditions like asthma, congenital heart defects, sickle-cell disease, cancer and HIV infection.
The ones who required intensive care respiratory support had developed pneumonia, which was treated with antibiotics.
"All of those children have done well and have eventually gone home," Mateo said.