Guatemalan boy who died in US custody had the flu, say state officials

Felipe's mother, Catarina Alonzo, standing outside her house in Yalambojoch village in Guatemala on Dec 28, 2018.
Felipe's mother, Catarina Alonzo, standing outside her house in Yalambojoch village in Guatemala on Dec 28, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

GUATEMALA CITY/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in the custody of US border agents this week had the flu before he passed away but the cause of his death is still unknown, state officials said on Friday (Dec 28).

Felipe Gomez Alonzo was the second Guatemalan child to die this month while being held by US authorities, sparking outrage from immigration advocates.

In the wake of the deaths, US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was travelling to the border to observe medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations while Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate have called for a full investigation.

Gomez fell ill after being detained near the US border with Mexico with his father. The two had travelled to the United States from their remote village of Yalambojoch in Guatemala.

New Mexico's medical investigator's office said in a statement that nasal and lung swabs during an autopsy found Gomez had influenza B, but said "determining an accurate cause of death requires further evaluation."

US Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the flu diagnosis.

Marta Larra, a spokeswoman from the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry, said the government expected to receive the official results of the autopsy in roughly a month, and that Gomez's body would probably be returned to the country in about two weeks.

 
 
 

Gomez and his father were detained on Dec 18 in El Paso, Texas, for illegally entering the country, but several days later they were moved to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico.

After a border agent noticed the boy looked sick, Gomez was transferred to a nearby hospital but he was released with a prescription for an antibiotic and Ibuprofen. After the boy began to vomit and had a fever, he was taken back to the hospital in the evening, where he died just before midnight on Dec 24.

Antibiotics do not work as treatment for viruses like the flu, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kathryn Hampton, who coordinates the Asylum Network Programme of the New York-based advocacy organisation Physicians for Human Rights, said in a statement that border facilities are not well equipped to handle the increasing number of children and families migrating mostly from Central America to the United States.

US President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to close the southern US border unless Congress agrees to provide US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) in taxpayer funds for a border wall with Mexico, blaming Democrats for a partial government shutdown over the spending issue.