CDC officials confirmed the first US death from the swine flu outbreak this morning. A 23-month-old toddler succumbed in Texas, as the number of cases climbed to 66 across six states, but officials in New York think that hundreds of schoolchildren may be affected:

The first U.S. death from swine flu has been confirmed — a 23-month-old child in Texas — amid increasing global anxiety over a health menace that authorities around the world are struggling to contain.

The flu death was confirmed Wednesday by Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an interview with CNN, he gave no other details about the child. …

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in the United States rose to 66 in six states, with 45 in New York, 11 in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas and one each in Indiana and Ohio, but cities and states suspected more. In New York, the city’s health commissioner said “many hundreds” of schoolchildren were ill at a school where some students had confirmed cases.

Cases have now popped up all over the world, including New Zealand, Israel, Britain, and Canada, among others.  Germany announced three cases today, becoming the latest addition to the list of nations affected.  Until now, all of the other deaths have been in Mexico, and for that matter, almost all of the severe cases.

To keep this in perspective, though, every flu outbreak causes deaths, even in the US.  The CDC told the media yesterday that 36,000 people die in the US each year from flu-related illnesses.  I had no idea that number was so high.  To put it in perspective, the CDC’s 2001 statistics showed 10,800 deaths from alcohol-related traffic accidents — and almost 6,000 alcohol-related homicides.

It will take at least two months to get a vaccine for this flu strain, so we will have to remain careful about contact, but not paranoid.  The very young and the very old will have to be protected, as will those with chronic immune-system disorders, such as the First Mate, who has to take immune-suppression medication for her transplant.  It shouldn’t prompt panic, but informed caution.