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Cluster of Student Flu Deaths in Eastern Pennsylvania

Recombinomics Commentary
February 20, 2005

A cluster of 3 flu deaths of students in Eastern Pennsylvania has caused concern.  All three deaths happened suddenly to three students in three different schools.  The first death was Adam Spandorfer, an 11 year old 6th grader at the Bala Cynwyd Middle School in south Philadelphia.  The school district notified teachers and classmates on February 7, 2005 of his death.  Two days later a 15 year old freshman, Martin McDowan,  at Nazareth Area High School in Nazareth, PA also died of complications from the flu.  The following week, on February 15, an 11 year old, James Pate, a 5th grader at Bregy Elementary School in Philadelphia, also died of flu complications.

The flu related deaths of the three students in eastern PA have caused concern among parents.  This week the CDC update of flu activity indicated the new H3N2 strain, California/7/2004, had replaced the Fujian-like strain that had dominated US H3N2 isolates last year.  For the past two reporting weeks, all of the H3N2 sub-typed isolates have been the California strain.

Another cluster of deaths of 3 servicemen at Fort Bragg and Raleigh, North Carolina has also raised concerns.  Their deaths were also sudden and happened between December 26, 2004 and last week.

The spread of the California strain has been rapid.  The sub-typing of H3N2 US isolates was all Fujian-like through the first week of this year.  The change happened over several weeks.  All 71 isolates in the last two reporting weeks were the California strain.

The clustered deaths of students and servicemen, coupled with the rapid spread of the California strain, are cause for concern.

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