Death ruled swine-flu related

The Sumter County coroner confirmed Tuesday that a Laurence Manning Academy fifth-grader died last week of complications from swine flu.

The official cause of death for Ashlie Pipkin, 11, is pneumonia, according to Harvey Bullock. The H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, was the underlying factor that brought on the pneumonia, and Ashlie also had bronchitis, the coroner said.

The autopsy results fit the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for a swine flu-related death. Ashlie’s death is at least the third of a child in the past month from the novel flu virus that began showing up in the state in April and reached widespread status in August.

The publicity about Ashlie’s death reminds South Carolinians of the seriousness of flu. Seasonal flu kills hundreds in the state every year, often the elderly or very young with other underlying health problems.

Ashlie played in a softball tournament Sept. 19-20 and began suffering from flu-like symptoms Sept. 21, according to family members. She was diagnosed with pneumonia on Sept. 22 at Toumey Regional Medical Center in Sumter, and she died en route to Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia on Sept. 23.

Although health officials said Ashlie had a history of asthma, she was healthy compared with the other children who have died of swine flu complications in South Carolina.

The H1N1 virus also recently contributed to the death of another Midlands child, 3-year-old Jaden Myers-Pugh of Columbia on Sept. 17, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. Jaden, who had flu symptoms for several days, died in his home. He also had sickle-cell anemia.

In August, 12-year-old John H. McCormick of Batesburg-Leesville was the first child in the state to die of swine flu complications. John also had cerebral palsy and other lifelong medical problems.

Before the two recent deaths, the state had recorded four swine flu-related deaths in the nearly six months the virus had been considered widespread in the state, according to DHEC. The other deaths were adults.

Since Aug. 30, there have been 76 confirmed hospitalizations with swine flu in the state, according to DHEC.

Health officials acknowledge those numbers aren’t exact because people who are hospitalized or die with other health complications might not have been tested for flu. But the criteria for reporting hospitalizations and deaths change only slightly from year to year, and the hospitalizations and deaths from swine flu are well below those numbers for seasonal flu.

Laurence Manning Academy in Manning, where Ashlie attended school, closed last Tuesday when more than 25 percent of the students were absent, many with flu-like symptoms.

The school still had nearly 10 percent absentees when it re-opened Monday, said headmaster Spencer Jordan.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.