April 30, 2009 in City

Swine flu has likely arrived

In Washington: Spokane resident, back from California, among six probable cases
By , and The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Julie Graham and epidemiologist Bill Edstrom announce probable cases of swine flu in Washington state, including one in Spokane man.
(Full-size photo)

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• The Spokane Regional Health District will open a phone bank at 10 a.m. today to take questions about swine flu. Call: (866) 800-4950.

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A Spokane man in his 40s is among six Washington state residents who probably have swine flu, health officials said Wednesday night.

The officials have been unable to interview the man, who hasn’t returned their phone calls. They don’t know if he is married or has children in local schools.

Three of the other likely infected state residents are in King County, and two are in Snohomish County. There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu in Idaho.

An 11-year-old Seattle boy has been hospitalized and is expected to be released soon, health officials said. The rest are recovering at home.

Bill Edstrom, an epidemiologist with the Spokane Regional Health District, urged residents to stay home from work if they are ill and to keep children home from school if they exhibit flulike symptoms, such as a sudden fever, a loud cough, achy muscles and joints, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

“We’re going to try and control the spread. We don’t want it to get out of hand,” he said.

The Spokane man had traveled to California and returned recently. A local medical provider submitted his medical samples to a state lab in Shoreline for testing, but the results were inconclusive, officials said. The samples have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing.

Edstrom said 95 percent of such samples submitted by states for further testing show swine flu.

“We’ll be treating this episode as if it were a confirmed case,” Edstrom said.

Health officials did not ask people to avoid major public events, such as Sunday’s Bloomsday race, which is expected to draw more than 40,000 participants.

“At this time we are not recommending the cancellation of Bloomsday until we know more information,” the health district said in a news release. “Our planning team is meeting in the morning to discuss this issue. This is an evolving situation, and we will be addressing issues such as this tomorrow morning.”

The health district will open a phone information line this morning as part of its pandemic influenza plan, which also includes coordination with hospitals and clinics, schools, law enforcement departments and other emergency workers.

A Spokane Public Schools spokeswoman said school nurses are in contact with families whose children have recently returned from Mexico or other areas affected by swine flu.

All school employees have been provided with information “about what to watch for and precautions to take,” said Terren Roloff, director of community relations.

Parents can expect letters with the same information to arrive home with children this week and next, Roloff said.

Health officials anticipate many more cases of swine flu in the coming days and weeks.

More than 70 possible influenza samples from across the state have been sent to the state lab.

Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health-Seattle and King County, said he expects the region will see more infections of the swine flu virus.

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

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

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

Besides the Spokane man, officials said, the other suspected Washington cases involve:

•The 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 flulike 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 he did not attend class when he showed symptoms. 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 a plan 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.”

Staff writers Jonathan Brunt and Sara Leaming and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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