Swine flu eyed in S.C. child's death

An 11-year-old Sumter girl who had flu-like symptoms early this week died Wednesday in an ambulance en route to Columbia, authorities said.

Ashlie Pipkin was a fifth-grade student at Laurence Manning Academy in Manning. Family members said Pipkin began to feel bad Monday with flu-like symptoms. She took a codeine-based cough medicine and began having trouble breathing Tuesday.

Doctors at Tuomey Regional Medical Center in Sumter diagnosed Ashlie with pneumonia on Tuesday, family members said. She was being transported to Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia when she died Wednesday.

Ashlie's body will be taken to Newberry County for a forensic autopsy, said Sumter County coroner Harvin Bullock.

Before Ashlie's death, Laurence Manning Academy was closed Wednesday for the rest of the week because about 280 of its 1,000 students did not come to school on Tuesday, according to headmaster Spencer Jordan. Many of those absent had been diagnosed with flu, Jordan said.

Many doctors no longer are routinely testing to determine the strain of flu affecting patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly all flu cases at this time are the H1N1 strain, commonly referred to as swine flu.

The autopsy will determine whether Ashlie had swine flu and whether it contributed to her death. If so, she would be at least the second child whose death was associated with the H1N1 virus in South Carolina.

John H. McCormick, 12, of Batesburg-Leesville died Aug. 24 after contracting swine flu, according to his family. John had cerebral palsy and other lifelong health problems.

Ashlie's family said she was a healthy, active child who played softball.

The H1N1 virus has hit young people more than the usual seasonal flu, prompting health experts to suspect older people may have developed limited immunity to the strain through the years. Since it first struck the U.S. in April, swine flu has been blamed for 114 pediatric deaths in the country, according to the CDC.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control characterizes the current swine flu outbreak as widespread in the state. But the actual number of influenza-like illnesses reported by doctors dropped slightly in the last week of reporting, ending Sept. 12.

Swine flu, which first was diagnosed in Mexico early this year, carries symptoms similar to seasonal flu - including high fever, body aches, cough, runny nose and lethargy. If the disease is diagnosed early, anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu can reduce severity and length of symptoms.

The best way to slow the spread is to wash hands thoroughly and frequently, cough into a tissue or the crook of your elbow (not your hand) and, most importantly, stay home if you have several of the swine flu symptoms. Health officials say it is safe to return to school or work if you go 24 hours without high fever.

While symptoms of swine flu thus far have generally been more mild than those of seasonal flu, either virus can be deadly in people with other underlying health problems. Seasonal flu contributes to the deaths of an estimated 36,000 each year in the United States, according to the CDC.

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