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Spokane man is among those with probable swine flu

A Spokane man in his 40s likely has contracted the swine influenza virus that has caused widespread concern and warnings of a pandemic across the globe, health officials said Wednesday evening.

They also confirmed that five other Washington residents – all from the West side of the state – also likely have the virus. Of those an 11-year-old Seattle boy has been hospitalized, but the rest are recovering from home. Officials said the boy is making progress and likely will be released soon.

The Spokane man had traveled to California and returned recently, officials said. His test results came back at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Spokane Health District announced it activated its pandemic influenza plan and was coordinating with area medical systems. In a news release, the district said it was not recommending that the Bloomsday run be cancelled “at this time,” but that the issue would be discussed by health leaders today.

“This is an evolving situation,” the news release said.

Officials at Spokane Public Schools said school nurses are in contact with families whose children have recently returned from Mexico or other affected areas.

All staff has been provided information “about what to watch for and precautions to take,” said Terren Roloff, director of community relations.

Parents can also expect to see letters with the same information coming home with children from their schools this week, and next week, Roloff said.

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.

Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky stressed that preventing spread of the virus depends on common sense actions like staying home from school or work when sick.

“The focus is on doing things like washing your hands,” she said at a news conference late Wednesday. “Good personal hygiene and good general hygiene is what’s really important.”

Officials said final testing still must be done by the Centers for Disease Control. But of several cases brought to state attention, the six had viruses that could not be identified as having typical human influenza strains.

“There is still circulating human influenza in the population right now,” said Dr. Tony Marfin, state Health Department communicable disease epidemiologist.

The other suspected Washington cases involve:

• An 11-year-old boy from Seattle who has been hospitalized but is said to be improving and likely to be discharged soon.

• A 27-year-old Seattle man

• A 33-year-old Seattle woman who works as a physician. Her husband and two children were reported to also have flu-like symptoms.

• A 6-year-old boy from Snohomish County

• A 34 year-old woman from Snohomish County.

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.

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.

City of Spokane spokeswoman Marlene Feist said late Wednesday that she had not heard of similar consideration to activate an operations center for Spokane County. She said firefighters, as first responders, have been briefed to look for signs of influenza.

“It’s an emerging situation,” Feist said. “We have a support role, and we’ll do what’s necessary.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report