Politics & Government

State's likely flu cases rise to 45

Ten more probable cases of swine flu were added Monday to Washington state’s tally, bringing the total number of probable cases to 45.

So far, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not confirmed any of the state’s probable cases, state Health Department spokesman Tim Church said.

The state Health Department said 27 of the probable cases are in King County, which includes Seattle; 14 are in Snohomish County and one in Skagit County, both north of Seattle. One is in Pierce County, which includes Tacoma; and two are in Spokane County in eastern Washington.

So far, the state has tested 279 samples out of more than 600 samples collected.

In Skagit County, health officials sent 11 samples to the state, including one of a person who died of pneumonia.

“It is unknown if this person died from H1N1 flu. We are following CDC guidelines to test in this situation,” said Peter Browning, director of Skagit County Public Health.

Church said he could not confirm any of the Skagit County spokesman’s information.

About 300 cases of swine flu virus have been confirmed in 36 states so far, according to a count by The Associated Press. There has been one death in the United States, a toddler who succumbed to the disease after he was brought to the U.S. from Mexico.

Church said Washington state received test kits from the CDC over the weekend and may be authorized early next week to confirm its own swine flu tests.

“We’re testing the system now this week to make sure we get valid results,” he said.

In King County, health officials reported six more probable cases of swine flu on Monday, with the ages of the people infected ranging from 9 to 54. None of the new cases required hospitalization, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable disease for King County Public Health. Four more probable cases were in Snohomish County.

Around the Puget Sound region, a handful of schools closed last week due to reports of students falling ill with flu-like symptoms, reports of probable cases of swine flu or students having direct connections to someone believed to have the illness. However, some of the schools have begun preparations to reopen this week, including schools in Seattle, Everett and Federal Way.

Truckloads of medication and other supplies began arriving in Washington over the weekend as a precaution in case they are needed to treat people with the flu, known as the H1N1 strain.

The supplies are from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile, and include enough antiviral medication – Tamiflu and Relenza – to treat about 230,000 people, the Health Department said. The medications must be prescribed, the department said.

U.S. officials said Monday that it’s too early to say the swine flu threat is receding, even though there are some signs the outbreak may not be as serious as originally feared.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the outbreak could die down with warmer weather only to roar back during fall flu season. And she said the public shouldn’t be alarmed if the World Health Organization declares that the new virus has officially begun a pandemic, meaning it has spread pretty much globally.

That word describes “geography, not severity” and thus wouldn’t change U.S. steps to stem infections, she said.

Another top U.S. health official said “there are encouraging signs” of a leveling off in the severity of the threat, but added that it’s still too early to declare the problem under control.

Best advice is check for symptoms

WASHINGTON — With more data suggesting the swine flu outbreak may not be as deadly as first feared, U.S. health officials are reconsidering their earlier advice on when schools should be closed over health concerns about the virus.

“We are looking at our school closure guidance, and we’re having very active discussions about whether it’s time to revise that,” said Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Monday.

Current CDC directives suggest school closings of up to two weeks for confirmed or probable swine flu cases. These precautionary guidelines were developed weeks ago when little was known about the new virus, and reports of hundreds dead and thousands sickened in Mexico caused panic around the world.

As of last week, more than 430 schools in 18 states were closed because of the outbreak, leaving more than 245,000 students out of class nationally — about one-half of 1 percent of U.S. enrollment.

Because the disease is attacking mostly healthy young people, school closings were supposed to keep students from infecting one another and then spreading the disease further into their communities.

Researchers have found, however, that the disease is already “pretty-well established” in areas where schools have been closed, Besser said.

“So closing schools as a means of not letting it spread through a community isn’t very effective,” he added.

Instead, officials are considering putting more emphasis on personal responsibility to help fight the disease. Following the lead of schools in Canada and in the Seattle area, Besser said parents should check children for flu-like symptoms before they go to school each morning and keep them home for at least a week if they appear ill.

McClatchy Newspapers

Developments Monday

Key developments on swine flu outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and government officials:

Deaths: 26 confirmed in Mexico and one confirmed in U.S., a toddler from Mexico who died in Texas.

Confirmed sickened: 1,444 worldwide; 802 in Mexico; 380 in U.S.; 140 in Canada; 57 in Spain; 27 in Britain; eight in Germany; six in New Zealand; four in Israel, Italy and France; two in El Salvador; one each in Austria, Costa Rica, Colombia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea and Switzerland.

U.S. confirmed cases from CDC or states: New York, 90; Texas, 40; California, 69; Massachusetts, 34; Delaware, 20; Arizona, 18; Oregon, 17; South Carolina, 15; Illinois, nine; Colorado, Louisiana, and New Jersey, seven; Florida, five; Alabama and Maryland, four; Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, three; Connecticut, Kansas and Michigan, two; and one each in Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Idaho and Utah.

Mexico to reopen: Mexico will allow most businesses to reopen today, universities to reopen Thursday. Mexico City cafes, museums and libraries to reopen this week; schools nationwide to reopen next week after inspections are completed.

Mexico-China exchange: Mexican government charters a plane to bring its citizens home from China after 70 Mexican nationals traveling in China were quarantined there. China sends its own plane to retrieve Chinese nationals stranded in Mexico.

The Associated Press