Rifle girl’s death may be related to swine flu

A community rocked by the recent death of a 7-year-old girl learned Wednesday that the Rifle student apparently had been infected with the H1N1 flu.

However, authorities still are awaiting a determination of whether the girl died as a direct result of what’s also known as swine flu, or if underlying health conditions or other factors caused or contributed to the death.

Amy Wright, youth services librarian for the Garfield County’s Rifle library branch and the parent of one of the girl’s fellow students at Wamsley Elementary School, said there’s a mood of “sadness and heaviness at the school right now.”

She said people have been waiting to learn the circumstances of the girl’s death. Wright said she’s also been feeling “just the sadness of hearing the loss of a young life and having a daughter the same age and wondering what it would be like if that was my child.”

Garfield County Public Health said in a news release Wednesday that state health officials confirmed a young Rifle student’s infection with H1N1 flu late Tuesday.

It did not identify the student by name, gender or age, or say what school the student attended. Jim Rada, the county’s public health information officer, said health officials don’t release names.

The county said the student died in Children’s Hospital in Denver Sept. 22. A recent obituary from the Rifle Funeral Home indicated that a 7-year-old Wamsley student died Sept. 22 at the hospital.

Officials hope to learn the cause of the student’s death soon, the county said.

Garfield County deputy coroner Thomas Walton said the girl’s case is under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office, and autopsy results there are pending.

Rada said the county learned of confirmation of the student’s H1N1 infection through a disease surveillance database of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The student hadn’t been in school the Friday before dying and spent the ensuing weekend in Denver, reducing the risk of exposure to fellow students and staff in the Garfield Re-2 School District.District spokeswoman Theresa Hamilton said no unusual spike in flu-like illness has been seen at Wamsley. The district has been experiencing a flu outbreak, but some schools are seeing more illness than Wamsley is, she said.

Five people have been hospitalized for flu in the county between Aug. 26 and Sept. 29. Two of them have been confirmed as having H1N1 flu. Rada said he has been hearing anecdotally of a variety of different flu-like illnesses being diagnosed in the county.

Garfield County Public Health and the Garfield Re-2 School District have been in constant communication about flu activity since the start of the school year, and the district has taken measures such as encouraging good hand-washing, urging people to stay home if ill, and promoting flu vaccinations, the county says.

“H1N1 flu, like seasonal flu, spreads in places where children and young adults gather,” Mary Meisner, director of Garfield County Public Health, said in the news release.

“Once school started, we expected to see more cases. This unfortunate situation emphasizes that this virus deserves everyone’s close attention.”

Although H1N1 continues to be a “rather uncomplicated” disease for most people in the United States, more serious cases appear to be occurring among healthy children, Garfield County Public Health said in its release.

Hamilton said the school district is taking whatever preventive measures health officials ask of it.

“We’re doing everything in our power to keep our kids healthy,” she said.

Wright said she hasn’t heard widespread alarm among Wamsley parents or at the library where she works. She hasn’t considered having her daughter stay home from school because of the flu scare and girl’s death.

“I certainly wouldn’t jump the gun right now and take her out of school — (I’ll) just wait and see what happens,” she said.

Hamilton said the death of a student has been a tragedy for the school.

“Obviously, our hearts and our prayers go out to the family,” she said.


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