Five new Spokane cases of H1N1 influenza have been confirmed in the past week, and local health officials say the virus is now common and infecting people throughout the region.
The recently confirmed swine flu cases include a Rogers High School student and his father, an infant and the two prisoners at the Airway Heights Corrections Center whose cases were reported last week. The newest cases may be just a small sample of the number of people with the headline-grabbing flu strain.
The Washington state Department of Health is now testing and reporting only those flu cases that hospitalize people or in which the virus contributed to a person’s death.
The new policy, state and local health officials acknowledge, doesn’t accurately reflect the scope of new infections, because most cases are mild and don’t require hospitalization.
Dr. Joel McCullough, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District, urged residents to continue washing their hands, covering coughs and sneezes with shirtsleeves or tissues, and staying home from work or school if they’re ill.
Spread of the flu may ebb this summer, though it will likely return in the fall along with seasonal flu viruses.
The health district will post weekly totals of confirmed cases and continue to issue notices if outbreaks occur in places such as summer camps, child care centers or institutions.
Across Washington, 43 people have been hospitalized with swine flu and two have died. The state confirmed more than 575 cases of the flu before it changed its monitoring procedures.
There have been 16 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu virus in Idaho, including five in the five northern counties, said Panhandle Health District spokeswoman Cynthia Taggart. Idaho officials continue to test any patient samples sent by doctors, she said.