Girl, 12, Becomes Fourth Israeli to Die From Swine Flu

Health Ministry: Over 20,000 Israelis hit by pandemic; ministry stops systematic testing in suspected cases.

A 12-year-old girl from the town of Bnei Brak became the fourth Israeli to die of swine flu on Wednesday.

The girl, who suffered from a genetic disorder known as Rett Syndrome, was hospitalized two weeks ago after contracting swine flu. She received treatment at Schneider Children's Hospital and was later released after making a full recovery.

This past Sunday, the girl returned to the hospital after falling ill with a fever. She was sent home after receiving treatment and was told to return to hospital the next day for further examination.

In the early morning hours, the girl's heart stopped beating and an ambulance was summoned to her home. Medics resuscitated the girl, who was taken to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit in critical condition. Doctors pronounced the girl dead late Wednesday night.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that despite the uncertainty over whether the girl died from swine flu, it decided to include her on the list of Israelis who succumbed to the virus.

Ministry: Over 20,000 Israelis have been hit by swine flu

More than 20,000 Israelis have been infected with swine flu, the vast majority of whom had mild cases, the Health Ministry estimates. Two Israelis died of the disease.

The ministry has stopped systematically testing patients with suspected swine flu, or H1N1, as the virus is known. Laboratory tests are now being limited to hospital patients and geographic areas of more widespread outbreaks. The ministry's Center for Disease Control has reported that about 920 Israelis a week are coming down with the disease. Swine flu vaccines are still being developed; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided last week that vaccines will be made available to all Israeli citizens when they come to market.

The most widespread cases of swine flu have been reported in Nahariya, Netanya, Modi'in, Beit Shemesh and in Jewish settlements in the southern West Bank. Smaller outbreaks have been reported in Haifa and its suburbs, as well as in Hadera, Rishon Letzion, Rehovot, Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem. Numbers on Tel Aviv have not yet been submitted.

Amnon Kiro, who has been tracking flu cases for the Israeli Pediatric Association, notes that "at the moment, swine flu is more widespread among children, but the cases are also milder. In general with the flu, infection among children usually portends the spread of the disease in the [wider] community."

At Moshav Nehora in the south, four children attending kindergartens have been infected with swine flu. The regional council has decided to close the preschools to reduce the risk of further spread. An assessment will be made on Sunday on reopening the kindergartens.

Although public concerns have risen regarding the spread of swine flu, Dan Engelhard, head of the Ministry's epidemic response team, says "the situation with the disease has not changed." He noted that young adults are at greater risk than children and that there was no need for widespread action in kindergartens or limitations on opening schools next month.