The number of children who have died from swine flu has jumped sharply as the virus spreads throughout the United States, federal officials...

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The number of children who have died from swine flu has jumped sharply as the virus spreads throughout the United States, federal officials said Friday.

The deaths of 19 children and teens were reported in the past week, pushing the nation’s total H1N1 pediatric deaths to 76 since April, officials said — more evidence the virus is unusually dangerous for the young.

It was the deadliest week for children since the pandemic began in the spring.

In comparison, regular seasonal flu kills between 46 and 88 children and teens a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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“These pediatric deaths seem to be increasing substantially,” said Anne Schuchat, who heads the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s only the beginning of October,” she told reporters Friday, noting the flu season usually starts much later and runs through May.

While most children who died had other health problems that made them particularly vulnerable, such as asthma, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, 20 to 30 percent were otherwise healthy, Schuchat said. Many of the deaths resulted from bacterial infections after immune systems were weakened by flu. A vaccine to prevent such infections is underused, she added.

Experts said it’s important for parents to watch children’s symptoms carefully. If a child appears to get better, but fever and a cough return, there may be a second infection. Other trouble signs: rapid or difficult breathing, bluish skin color.

Experts believe older people are suffering less from H1N1, perhaps because they have immunity from exposure over the years to somewhat similar viruses.

At least 37 states, including Washington, report widespread flu activity, up from 27 states a week ago. The recent pediatric deaths were two in Maryland; three in Tennessee; seven in Texas; and one each in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Since the pandemic began, at least 3,873 Americans have died from complications associated with flu, primarily the H1N1 virus, including at least 28 pregnant women.

The increase in pediatric deaths comes as the federal vaccination campaign is beginning. Millions of doses began arriving this week.

The increase in pediatric deaths provided more incentive for parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated against the virus, Schuchat said.

“Vaccine against flu is the best way to protect yourself from influenza, and those around you,” she said.

The federal government has spent about $2 billion to buy at least 250 million doses of vaccine in the hopes of inoculating more than half the U.S. population, and it has pledged to buy enough to vaccinate everyone if there is sufficient demand.

National surveys indicate about 40 percent of Americans are sure they will get the vaccine, with those who are reluctant citing doubts about the severity of the virus and concerns about vaccine side effects.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday that trials continue to show that one dose is sufficient for healthy adults. And he said the trials have revealed no serious adverse effects.

With material from Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press

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