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Student's death might be linked to flu

Health authorities are trying to determine whether a Western Kentucky middle school student's death this week is related to swine flu.

The girl, a seventh-grader at Caldwell County Middle School, died Wednesday, school officials said. Her name was not released.

Kentucky's first swine flu death, involving a 50-year-old Fayette County woman, was reported earlier this month. There have been no confirmed Kentucky fatalities among children.

Allison Beshear, a spokeswoman for the Pennyrile District Health Department, said Thursday that test samples from the Caldwell County case were being sent to Frankfort for analysis by the state Department of Public Health's laboratory. It might be next week before tests can confirm H1N1.

"Until we have confirmation, we will not be able to talk more about the situation," said Beshear, whose department covers Caldwell and four neighboring counties.

Caldwell County Public Schools Superintendent Carrell Boyd issued a statement Thursday saying the district is working with health officials.

"This is a tragic situation involving one of our students," Boyd said. "First and foremost, our thoughts are with the friends and relatives of this young lady."

Officials said there is no plan to close the Caldwell middle school. The school system previously had only one confirmed case of H1N1.

The seasonal flu season hasn't begun in Kentucky, so health authorities are assuming that any cases that occur now are H1N1, also known as swine flu.

Last week, health officials declared that flu in Kentucky has become "widespread," which is the highest level of activity.

Health officials are urging the use of common-sense precautions such as staying home when you are sick and frequent hand washing. While the H1N1 virus is highly contagious, most cases have been comparable in severity to the regular seasonal flu.

Seasonal flu vaccines are now widely available, and although there have been some shortages reported, Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said there is plenty available in Central Kentucky. If a physician doesn't have vaccine available in his office, he said, people should check with their local health departments or other providers, such as pharmacies.

An H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in late October, and health departments are planning for mass inoculations. Health officials are recommending most people consider getting both shots, one for seasonal flu and one for the H1N1 virus.