Wednesday, April 29, 2009

6 probable swine flu cases - WA health officials

Health officials have reported six probable cases of swine flu in Washington state.

Three of the cases are in King County, which includes Seattle, two are in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, and one is in Spokane County in northeast Washington.

Officials told a Wednesday night news conference that samples have been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for formal confirmation.

Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health-Seattle & King County, said he expects the region will see more infections of the swine flu H1N1 virus, which has been confirmed or suspected in dozens of patients in at least a dozen other states and several foreign countries.

The King County cases involve an 11-year-old Seattle boy, who officials say was hospitalized and is improving; a 27-year-old Seattle man; and a 33-year-old Seattle woman who is a physician, and whose husband and two children have also shown symptoms. They were not hospitalized and are improving.

The Snohomish County cases are a 6-year-old boy and a 34-year-old woman. Additional details on them were not immediately available.

The Spokane case involves a man in his 40s who recently traveled to California, the Spokesman-Review reported.

The Seattle boy attends Madrona Elementary School, but did not go to class at the time he showed symptoms, and officials said no school sessions have been canceled.

Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Snohomish County Health District health officer, told the news conference there was no evidence schools in his county were affected.

"Health experts in our state are monitoring the situation and have a well-practiced plan in place," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement.

State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky urged people to follow basic precautions to prevent spread of the disease.

"We need the people of our state to help prevent the spread of germs by covering their coughs and staying home if they're sick," she said. Health experts also recommend frequent hand washing.

The state Health Department said in a news release that there is no vaccine to prevent swine flu, but the state expects to receive a precautionary supply of antiviral medication - enough to treat about 230,000 people - in the next several days from the federal government.

The outbreak has hit about a dozen states amid confirmation of the first U.S. death - a Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family - and the confinement of dozens of Marines after one came down with the disease in California.

The Washington cases were discovered from among about 70 samples that have been sent so far to the state testing lab in Shoreline. Testing continues on dozens of those samples sent in since last weekend by hospitals, clinics and doctors.

Symptoms of the swine flu are typical of other flu strains, including fever, coughing, joint aches, headache, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea.

Health officials say the disease, despite its name, is spread from human to human - not from pigs to humans - and that it is not spread by eating properly cooked pork products.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said the city would activate its Emergency Operations Center at its first level to coordinate procedures and communications that might be needed in response to the flu cases.

Thanks to previous federal grants for pandemic preparedness, state health officials have TV public service advertisements ready, they've written up plans and practiced exercises on how to receive and distribute medication to combat the flu, and there's flu information available online, state Health Department spokesman Tim Church said.

Local health officials meet daily by phone with the state Health Department and everyone is working on getting information out to the public, Church said.

"We have a plan in place. We've practiced it. Everybody knows their roles," he said. "Four to five years ago, we wouldn't have had that in place."

Church said the overall flu season, which typically peaks in February, is tailing off. He said there have not been an abnormal number of flu cases for this time of year in the state.

The department estimates the flu situation by checking with a few schools and nursing homes.

The University of Washington has a small number of students in Mexico, about eight or nine, but the university is not advising them to come home, UW spokesman Bob Roseth said.


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