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Swine flu means no camp for Jerry’s Kids

By Arthur H. Rotstein

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

TUCSON, Ariz. — Thousands of Jerry’s Kids won’t be going to summer camp this year because of the swine flu.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has canceled the remainder of its summer camps because swine flu was reported in three of its earliest camps.

Comedian Jerry Lewis holds a telethon each Labor Day weekend to raise money for the association and his "Jerry’s Kids."

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Children with muscular dystrophy are particularly at risk from the flu because drugs they take, especially the steroid prednisone, suppress their immune systems, MDA spokesman Bob Mackle said Tuesday.

Many with the disease also have compromised respiratory systems and are vulnerable to pneumonia, he said.

None of the nine children and three adults sickened after camps in recent weeks have died. About 1,800 children attended 33 camps in late May through mid-June, but another 2,500 set to go to 47 more summer camps will lose out. Those canceled camps were to take place in some 35 states.

The national organization, headquartered in Tucson, made the decision Friday after consulting with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In this particular case, you’re dealing with a very high-risk population who are at risk for hospitalization or death from flu — any flu," said Joe Quimby, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based CDC. "Normally, you rarely see outbreaks of flu at summer camps, but there’s more flu circulating now."

He added that the swine flu’s highest age concentration is among people ages 5 to 24.

"So it’s the vast majority of not just campers but also counselors," he said. "This was just a very prudent decision on behalf of the MDA to protect their campers, family and staff."

Mackle said the "heartbreaking decision" was not made lightly.

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"To a lot of these kids, this is bigger than Christmas," he said.

MDA officials have started brainstorming to find ways to offer alternative fun events for Jerry’s Kids later this year, he said.

Of the camp children sickened by swine flu, one was hospitalized in Utah and another in Pennsylvania. Six adults from that camp, which ended last Saturday, also are suspected of having swine flu, Mackle said.

After a Minnesota camp, seven child and three adult cases were confirmed, but none required hospitalization.

The overall cost for 4,300 children was $3.44 million, and the cost for the 2,500 kids whose trips were canceled $2 million.

"We’ll have to eat the loss," Mackle said.

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